Royal String Quartet

Szymanski, Mykietyn

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The Royal String Quartet may sound like the name of a British ensemble, but this release on Britain's Hyperion label is otherwise Polish all the way: the group and both composers come from Poland. The composers represented are well known in Poland but not elsewhere, and on the evidence here they ought to be more widely played. The three sets of pieces for string quartet by Pavel Szymanski, born in 1954, are especially intriguing. They have a common language, based in Witold Lutoslawski's economical interval-based structures, despite ranging in composition date from 1982 to 2013. But a sense of humor present in the early Two Pieces for string quartet flowers in the later sets; Szymanski may begin with a conventional gesture (such as a passage that might have come from a Classical-era string quartet) but then let it run out of gas or fall to the ground in downward glissandos, and finally generate a simple set of pitches. The music is not minimalist or neo-Romantic, but it is absolutely accessible and engaging; Szymanski, perhaps, has found a middle ground between the Polish modernism of the middle 20th century and more contemporary and simple trends. The String Quartet No. 2 (2006) of Pawel Mykietyn was composed for the Kronos Quartet and explores microtonal structures in a similarly accessible way. The Royal String Quartet achieves the silent, sparse textures required in the Szymanski pieces without trouble. Strongly recommended for those interested in new trends in Eastern European music.

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