Belgian composer Patrick De Clerck likes to begin each new composition "with a clean slate" -- he generally does not rely on realizing old sketches or recycling formal plans and he has openly expressed his disavowal of the self-plagiarism that Alfred Hitchcock pointed out that inevitably leads to what we call "Style." When expert Belgian chamber ensemble Quatuor Danel decided it wanted to record some of the chamber music De Clerck had composed, some adjustments had to be made -- rather than a neat cycle of numbered string quartets such as Bartók or Schoenberg produced, De Clerck offered them a quartet, quintet, trio, and a piece for violin and piano, Già. In keeping with his contrariness in instrumentation, De Clerck's formal development schemes, other than in the case of the single-movement Già, are individual; two of the larger works are stated in five movements and the third in six, some short and some long, and none of them follow typical sonata-allegro-styled models. Curiously, almost in seeming defiance to these carefully contrived layouts, the effect of these pieces is a kind of unanimity of form, as though they were single-movement pieces.
While there are occasional outbursts of ire, De Clerck's music is not hostile in tone and it owes nothing to the serial-derived style common to European academies -- it has qualities of mystery, atmosphere and dramatic tension, yet is tempered by a wry sense of humor. It does bear some sympathy toward the Baltic school of holy post-modernists such as Arvo Pärt, and at times the more languid side of the post-romanticism of Sibelius; however, De Clerck's music probes its own depth of expression and gives far more back on its own than it derives from others. De Clerck's music is involving, somewhat quirky, and occasionally joyous in mood; however, for all of its emotional variability it is clearly stated -- textures, while never "minimal," are neither very thick; overall he favors a clean line of argument. Quatuor Danel, joined by pianist Jean-Marie Bardèche in the Pianokwintet, delivers an ideal performance of De Clerck's music, and Megadisc's recording is just right -- intimate and close, with a hint of atmosphere gently applied enough to take the edge off the instruments but not so much that it adds an artificial distance. For those who enjoy high quality contemporary music, Megadisc's Quatuor Danel: Patrick De Clerck should prove highly satisfactory.