skip to Main Content

The Solem Quartet is at the top of its collective game

Solem Quartet's Painted Light

Classical Explorer, Colin Clarke

The Solem Quartet is at the top of its collective game throughout, as if the presentation of this music was propulsive force enough to light the music from within.

We have come across the music of Edmund Finnis before … And so here we move to the refined natire of his Devotions (his String Quartet No. 3). It is cast in eight movements (the sixth is, to my ears, remarkably English Pastoral!). The key to the album as a whole is it is a meditation on the metaphor of colour in music – as the booklet notes point out, there are other ways of interpreting music. The Kpelle people of Liberia talk about music being light or heavy; those of the Amazonian Suva tribe call it young or old. What we have here, therefore, is a tapestry of instrumental timbre, all generated by one string quartet: the Solem Quartet, whom we met before on Classical Explorer via their disc of Adès, The Four Quarters.

When you hear [Edmund Finnis’s] piece … listening to the ascending fragments of the third movements (as if moving towards the light, one might say), one certainly feels the shadow of late Beethoven. And yet Finnis’ world is all his own, his voice as individual as ever.

The colours of the night are heard in a 2022 arrangement by William Newell (the Solem Quartet’s second violinist) of Lili Boulager’s Nocturne. Commissioned in 1911 when the composer was only 18, the piece speaks of the Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel (there is indeed a direct quote from the former’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune) … contrasting [a recording of the work in its original form] to the Solems’ version only highlights the excellence of Newell’s arrangement –

he really captures the heart, the essence, of the piece.

And it is a lovely piece, if interludial in function on this disc between Finnis’s multi-movement structure and a piece simply called Quartet by Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952). Written in 1927, this offers another window in time. A pupil of Wilhelm Pijper (1894-1947), for all the beaities of the earlier two movements, it is the energetic finale (with its contrasts) that impresses (and listen out to those oh-so characterful glissandos at the ends of phrases).

The piece is absolutely beautiful. All credit to first violinist Amy Tress for her purity and security up high in this movement, too. A fascinating piece.

A short piece entitled The Blue Windows by Camden Reeves (born 1973) is actually that composer’s Fifth String Quartet. This is a name new to me. Like Finnis, there is indeed a luminosity about Reeves’ writing. Another work commissioned by the Solem Quartet, it was inspired by the Chagall stained-glass triptych America Windows. Reeves has been exploring ‘blueness’ in various ways, both in manifestations of linguistic meaning and in various different pieces (the piano cycle BLUE SOUNDS). There is touch of Feldman in The Blue Windows‘ quietude (it does not rise above mezzo piano, ever), and the piece makes an ideal complement to the Finnis. Both have an unhurried, suspended quality.

The piece seems to evaporate at one point, only to re-animate through quiet tremolos before falling back to high planes of refracted light. Fabulous – a real name to watch out for.

The Solem Quartet is joined by the composer as vocalist in Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Earth.

The piece is brilliantly written, and equally brilliantly performed.

Distinctly soulful, it seems to link to the final item, Both Sides Now – the Joni Mitchell song heard in an string quartet arrangement by William Newell.

The way the familiar melody emerges from the texture is simply lovely.

Dephian keeps on issuing significant discs, and their commitment to both new music and young talent is entirely laudable.The Solem Quartet is at the top of its collective game throughout, as if the presentation of this music was propulsive force enough to light the music from within.

The recording:
You may also like to see...
Powerful, yet deeply considered interpretations

Musical Opinion, Paul Conway

Solem Quartet
Dedication and aplomb

Inverurie Music, A. Massey

I have no doubt that the future of classical music is safe…

The Yorkshire Times, Elaine Annable

Heartfelt brio and winningly understated virtuosity

Scunthorpe Concert Society, Clive Davies

Back To Top