About this Recording
8.574028 - WEILAND, D.: String Quartets Nos. 4 and 5 (Melbourne Quartet)

Douglas Weiland (b. 1954)
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 50 • String Quartet No. 5, Op. 51


These outstanding works were composed in Old Beetley, Norfolk, UK, the Fourth Quartet between September and December 2011 and the Fifth Quartet between April and July 2012.

Douglas Weiland has long been acclaimed as a master of the quartet medium, most conspicuously for his First Quartet which was composed in Australia in 1985, a work which has received high acclaim in many countries. These two later quartets reveal him at the height of his artistic power.

The Fifth Quartet sets out with a certain innocence and mystery. The first theme comprises the same note played four times followed by a dotted falling figure, Classical in its simplicity and inherently ripe for development in a conventional classical sense.

Within a mere 24 bars this initial searching utterance has transformed into something authoritatively heroic, even defiant, and somewhat reminiscent of the primal white heat of Bartók with the doubled violins in canonical competition with the doubled viola and cello. Indeed, there is barely a bar whose DNA cannot be traced to this first theme in this tightly constructed first movement. As is often the case in Haydn, Beethoven and Bartók, much comes from little. Having begun with a shy B flat major, the first movement concludes with a most emphatic confirmation of this key in spite of having had a serious atonal flirtation just prior to the recapitulation. It is as if Weiland has gently and briefly summarised Bartók’s grand harmonic journey across six quartets, of diatonic harmony to atonality and back (going to the brink, looking over the edge, then retreating) in one brief Haydnesque exploration.

Indeed, Douglas Weiland is a Classical composer in his commitment to form, invention and beauty and the inherent limitless possibilities that these three pillars awaken, embracing as he does, the essential aesthetic and philosophical underpinnings of the Classical masters—made new in his own unique voice. Connection across time rather than alienation is the key. So the Fifth Quartet of Weiland is made possible by the Haydn Quartets in a loosely equivalent way to that which connects the 24 Préludes of Chopin to the Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach, a bridge of about one hundred and twenty years in the latter instance and about two hundred and fifty in the former.

The second movement of the Fifth Quartet is influenced by the slow movement of Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 20, No. 5 quite specifically. This is the heart of the Fifth Quartet and a lifetime in the making. It is representative of the pinnacle of Weiland’s art and his striving, a major landmark in the forward journey of the string quartet medium, first gathering up history, then thrusting it forward with rich invention and a noble heart, a 21st-century re-affirmation of the string quartet medium as a primary vehicle for what is most personal in music.

The third and final movement begins with a searching introduction, somehow striving to gently brush away any mystery which might stand in the way of the dazzling, and at times most charming invention of the bustling finale which follows. Here, Weiland stands with Haydn as fellow master in wit, form and imagination, concluding with a resounding endorsement of B flat major more than a century after Schoenberg was suggesting that it’s day was done.

The Fourth Quartet is a five-movement construct comparable in symmetry and scope to the five movement Fifth Quartet of Bartók. The composer himself states that his Fourth Quartet: ‘is built upon a large Schubert-scale concept, with a full blown Scherzo and Trio (III.—Germanesque) the central arch around which two large outer movements (l & V) hang fully extended. Placed comfortably one on either side are the more humble Adagio (II) and fleeting Intermezzo (IV).’ More specifically of the third movement he adds: ‘the scale and scope of the Scherzo I refer to as Schubertian; ‘Germanesque’ refers to the movement’s intrinsic character that I saw in this way.’

While the Fifth Quartet roundly affirms B flat major, the Fourth Quartet veritably hunts for C major.

The work begins with a casual falling minuet gesture. The key is immediately ambiguous, a reality which pervades much of the work in spite of C being central. Even in ultimate moments such as the end of the first movement where the supertonic (one tone above the tonic) is added to an otherwise C major chord, or at the very end of the whole work where a dystopian dissonance undermines C major, ambiguity is normal.

Throughout the work the composer dances around C major, longing for it, rarely providing it, visiting nearby though unrelated neighbours such as B major, D minor as well as related ones, Schubert-like such as the mediant (third degree of the scale therefore E). Most strikingly at the end of the central movement (III) when we believe we are landing in B flat major we are, in the final cadence (last two chords) suddenly jolted upwards from B flat, avoiding C into D. This is followed by a serene, eagle-like soaring of B major (again passing over C but in the opposite direction) in the Intermezzo (IV), ‘B’ itself being the leading note (one before C) which is promising to take us home to C in due course. Then, when seemingly close to home we are, in the finale (V) teased and taunted at length in the most exhilarating manner with any number of delightful and often mysterious obfuscations before journey’s end.

William Hennessy AM

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