The Four Quarters: The Solem Quartet plays Adès

A brilliantly programmed disc which sheds much light on Adès' piece while providing a satisfying hour's listening

The Four Quarters: The Solem Quartet plays Adès

Adès' The Four Quarters was performed by the Castalian String Quartet in Manchester's Stoller Hall as part of the "Polyphonic Concert Club" in March this year: see my review here. The piece was actually written in 2010 for the Emerson String Quartet. There, it was heard as a complete piece, straight through: here, the music intersects and interacts with the music around it.

Let me say straight away that there is an art to programming mixed-composer discs. It's an art few are adept in, but the imagination here is such that one does feel this is a complete experience. Adès' piece traces a day, from early morning to night, and so, in this case, do the pieces chosen to accompany the Adès "frame". Here's the members of the Solem Quartet to introduce the disc:

For all its cleverness, not all of Adès's music has moved me. This is a clear exception: brilliantly constructed, the pieces also holds real emotive depth. Take the first, "Nightfall" with its celestial two violins set againsst much earthier viola and cello. The expressivity of the full-quartet harmonies later in the movement put me in mind of the quartet music of Alban Berg (the String Quartet, Op. 3 and the Lyric Suite). Hearing it next to the Gurney/Purcell Sleep (arranged by the quartet's second violin, William Newell) works perfectly (it's based on Purcell's "Now does the glorious day appear"):

With morning enhanced by Christopher Miller's Warblework Hermit Thrush and the traditional C'a' the Yawes (arranged by the quartet's cellist, Stephanie Tress), we move to the second of Adès' movements, "Serenade, Morning Dew" with its invigorating pizzicato:

More Purcell accompanies the morning, How does the glorous day appear, arranged by Amy Tress, the quartet's first violin. This part of the day is enhanced by William Marsey's Be nice to see you, with its background telephone ring sound, as the everyday becomes somehow neutralised into an ostinato. Notice how everyday chit-chat is recontextualised by the mournful gestures of the quartet, too:

Another string quartet threads its way through the disc like a cross-stitch: Cassandra Miller's Warblework, a "poem for the regional sounds of the Pacific coast". Birdsong is slowed down and slides its way around the strings. Here's the "Veery" movement:

It is the repetition of the quoatidien that informs  Adès' third movement, "Days," the daily grind as sonic ositinato:

Florence Price has had a lot of cuverage recently, from Samantha Ege's fabuloous disc of piano music to her Piano Concerto in One Movement performed at the Proms by Janeba Kanneh-Mason. Here's another piece by Price, Summer Moon (1938, originally for piano and arranged here by William Newell):

Eventide takes us to Bartók, an arrangement of another piano piece, and a most effective arrangement at that by Newell  one of the Ten Easy Piano Pieces of 1908-11, "An Evening in the Village". But I'm not going to quote that; instead, here's the quartet playing Bartók's Third Quartet from memory, quite a treat!:

Newell's arrangement of Schumann's "Child falling asleep" ("Kind in einschlummern", Kinderszenen) brings us to Aaron Parker's remarkable easqelä - suspended, spacious, in a dusky light, an atmospheric tracing of a sunset in the composer's native Suffolk.

The final movement of the Adès is called "The Twenty-Fifth Hour," a game in trying to split 25 into manageable rhythms, which we can "no more do than we can fit an extra hour into our day". Unbelievably, the music converges on a final D-Major chord after lurching its way slowly onwards:

Odd to finish with some Kate Bush you might think (she closes the disc), but her music is ever-hypnotic (think of her album 50 Words for Snow). Here the quartet plays a version of And Dream of Sheep. Here's the original:

... and here's the quartet version:

A brilliantly programmed disc which sheds much light on Adès' piece while providing a satisfying hour's listening.