POST String Quartets – Nos. 2-4; Fantasia on a Virtual Choral
Fantasia on a Virtual Choral
Hawthorne String Quartet.
Naxos American Classics 8.559661
Chamber music has long been a preoccupation of David L. Post,
the multi-faceted New York-born composer, editor, clinical psychologist and novelist, with
the “direct and intimate” appeal
of the string quartet proving particularly alluring over the past decade and more.
His debut in the Naxos American Classics series includes his three most recent quartets – Nos. 2, 3 and 4 – and the Fantasia on a
Virtual Choral, all of which simultaneously reveal Post’s musical roots in the European quartet tradition of Martinů, Suk and Bartók, and a questing concern for contemporary relevance. What results from such
a dichotomy is music that is considered, intelligent, immediately digestible and rewarding of repeated listening.
Fittingly enough, the Second String Quartet was commissioned, in 2001, by the Martinů Quartet, and first heard the following year at
the Festival of Contemporary Music in the Czech capital, Prague.
That same year, the Boston-based Hawthorne String Quartet gave the work its American premiere and subsequently took it back to Prague
in a benefit concert in the city’s castle for the Terezín Memorial
(which commemorates the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camp
in the town), from where this recording derives.
Composed in four conventional movements, it is built around an opening motif of four pairs of half-step intervals that are spun out into often robustly inter-twined elaborations that wouldn’t seem out of place alongside the string quartets of Martinů or early Bartók. The Hawthornes take the Scherzo second movement’s Allegro aggressivo marking to heart, turning in a sinewy, biting performance that is unabashed by its sharp, jagged edges and unafraid of its brief moment of poetic repose.
There’s much of Janáček in the dark, jagged intricacies and chill, shivering strings of the grave Molto lento third movement, and Bartók is called pressingly to mind again in the feverish quality of the Allegro agitato finale, the Boston players proving themselves nimble and nuanced interpreters throughout.
Dating from 2003, the Third Quartet – four tightly woven sections in an extended, single movement – was begun as war in Iraq erupted. Post, in one of his many guises as a clinical psychologist, is best
placed to know what (if any) influence the event had on his music, but it moves between lyricism of an almost pastoral quality, coruscating dyspepsia, and elegiac keening with an adroitness that draws playing full of compassion, character and clout from the Hawthorne String Quartet, who also commissioned the Fourth Quartet in 2005.
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, it was written to mark the 300th anniversary of the city of Brookline, Massachusetts, and takes as its starting point three black-and-white photographs (rather poorly reproduced in the accompanying booklet) by Boston resident
Post catches the oddly unsettling quality of Morell’s camera obscura-accented images in music that is discreetly allusive, evocatively nuanced, and infused with a brimming sense of ambiguity. Janáček is again the touchstone here (noticeably so in the first two sections) the separate string lines bristling with rough-edged textures and shot through with dappled shards of light. The third movement, ‘Map in Sink’, is a different (though by no means dislocating) matter altogether, wearing its modernity on its sleeve with a becomingly confident aplomb. The whole coaxes fervently idiomatic playing from the Hawthornes, not least in ‘Book: Pieta by El Greco’, which boils
over as the work’s fulcrum with agitated emotion.
The Fantasia on a Virtual Choral, commissioned by the Terezín
Music Foundation and composed in the same year as the Third String Quartet, takes as its starting point Josef Suk’s Meditation on the
Old Czech Chorale ‘Saint Wenceslas’. The obvious vivacity of the writing – realized with quicksilver dash and élan – is driven by a beguiling romantic urge framed and focused by the work’s relatively brief seven-minute length.
Although positioned by Naxos as contemporary American Classics, Post’s music seems to belong just as much to a particular time and place in a part of Europe that is far away and long gone.