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Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:02 AM 2nd December 2023
arts
Review

Classical Music:Painted Light

 
Painted Light

Solem Quartet

Edmund Finnis (b. 1984) Devotions (String Quartet No 3); Lili Boulanger (1893–1918) arr. William Newell Nocturne; Henriëtte Bosmans (1895–1952) Quartet; Camden Reeves (b. 1974) The Blue Windows (String Quartet No 5); Ayanna Witter-Johnson Earth; Joni Mitchell arr. William Newell Both Sides Now

Amy Tress violin 1
William Newell violin 2
Stephen Upshaw viola
Stephanie Tress cello
Ayanna Witter-Johnson voice (Earth)


Delphian DCD34308
https://www.delphianrecords.com/

This CD stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but the surprise was enjoyable. The Solem Quartet has chosen an interesting concept for its first recording on the Delphian label, and in doing so, it has created a stunningly atmospheric disc. It is a mosaic of sound inspired by, and brimming with, colour.

In Anthony Friend’s comprehensive notes, he explains that 'musical pitch is usually described as being high or low, but for the Kpelle people of Liberia, it is ‘light’ or ‘heavy’, and the Amazonian Suva tribe use ‘young’ or ‘old’. Our fundamental vocabulary for explaining music is saturated with metaphor, as we describe the instrumental timbre as dark or bright, the pulse as flowing or dragging, and the melody as jagged or smooth. These descriptions are evocative; our experience of music draws on our sense of time, movement, space, and, in many cases, of the visual.'

The Solem Quartet has taken this idea to create a highly eloquent and articulate recording full of expressive textures.

The opening bars of Edmund Finnis Devotions insinuate the listener into a world where the music moves in space and immediately draws them into a feeling of timelessness. The music swirls around like a wintery colour emerging and then mingling with mist. The connection that the players create through different powerful emotions—tension, mysteriousness—takes hold, and with such expressive playing and wonderful tonal qualities, the sound of the Solem Quartet produces an eddy pulling the listener into its core with an impressionistic aural painting.

Finnis’ flowing Devotions was commissioned by the Solem Quartet and conceived as a response to Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132. Finnis links colour and sound perfectly, creating sparse harmonies. His music flickers with a glowing radiance that has a heavenly presence and gently pulsates as the performers perfectly observe the pianissimo dynamics to create sound that has a seamless and haunting beauty to it. The taut lines and use of different techniques are compelling.

Lili Boulanger’s Noctourne is expressively performed, and still the delights keep appearing. Henriëtte Bosmans’ Quartet is equally hypnotising, with such sensitive and vivid playing from the Solem Quartet. Time seems to linger. The fragility and introspection of the second movement are palpable.

The stained-glass luminosity of Camden Reeves’ The Blue Windows was inspired by America Windows (1976), a triptych of stained-glass artworks by Marc Chagal. This is a glorious 11-minute work, and like most of the compositions on this disc, as Anthony Friend reminds us, it never gets beyond mezzo-piano. This is what makes the disc so powerful. The serenity that each composition conveys is meditative.

The meticulous attention to detail that the Solems bring to their performance is outstanding. The storytelling is exceptional and matched by superlative Delphian recording engineers.

The disc concludes with Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Earth, originally part of a 2018 work for string quartet alone, commissioned by the Ligeti Quartet and Sound and Music. The Quartet is joined by the composer as vocalist; her voice is sonorous, and her words a powerful depiction of nature. Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, is heard in an arrangement by the Quartet’s violinist William Newell, and provides a delicate lesson in perspective.

An enchanting CD.