String Quartets Nos. 1-3
Fuga FUGA-9224 (62 minutes)
It’s rather odd, these days, thinking back to the days in the 1960s and ’70s when the musical world was riven by the competing claims of tonal and atonal music: in our own polystylist times we simply accept music as good or bad, regardless of the manner of its expression. That’s as it should be, of course, but we shouldn’t forget the kind of pressure that composers were under to keep abreast of the times – that is, write serial music.
So the gradually rejection of twelve-note writing chronicled in Joonas Kokkonen’s three string quartets – No. 1 was written in 1958-59, No. 2 in 1964-66 and No. 3 in 1976 – required the composer, so it seemed, to swim against the tide in search of his true voice. But with the benefit of hindsight (or hindhearing, if you prefer) we can see that despite the orthodox twelve-note writing of the First Quartet Kokkonen is present in every bar, and that what happens over the coming works is a consolidation of the voice already present then: the lyrical writing pushes to the fore, the dance-elements become more prominent, as does triadic harmony; the Third Quartet also displays Kokkonen’s fondness for the hymn-like passages that were to find such ardent expression in his opera The Last Temptations.
The Arkadia Quartet provide readings that, technically, are completely reliable but are a little short on the ecstatic quality that ought to inhabit this music.