Friday 9 May 2014

The Wihan Quartet bring all their terrific qualities of crisp ensemble, rich textures and sensitivity to detail to works by William Zinn on a release from Nimbus

Composer-violinist William Zinn (b.1924) was a member of many major orchestras performing under the world’s greatest conductors.  His compositions, that number over 500 and include works for chamber ensemble, symphonies, vocal and solo instrumental works, have been played worldwide. His compositions cover the entire spectrum of musical instruments including all the woodwinds, brass, strings, harp, guitar, harmonica and piano. Zinn’s composition the ‘7 Seasons’, seven multiple movement tone poems for orchestra, is based on the seven most important Jewish holidays.

Nimbus have released a recording by the Wihan Quartet featuring William Zinn’s works for String Quartet.
NI 6256

The Wihan Quartet, formed in 1985, are celebrating 30 years as a quartet in 2015. The Quartet, whose members are Leoš Čepický (violin), Jan Schulmeister (violin), Jiří Žigmund (viola) and Aleš Kaspřík (cello) have built an outstanding reputation for the interpretation of their native Czech heritage, and of the many classical, romantic and modern masterpieces of the string quartet repertoire. Their previous recordings for Nimbus have included works by Beethoven, Schubert, Paganini (Caprices arr. Zinn) and Dvorak.

Elie Wiesel (A Portrait) was written in 2012 and was inspired by the life of the Romanian born, Jewish-American professor, writer and Nobel Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel (b.1928).

The piece opens deep on the cello before being answered by the strings. This dialogue is continued until the whole quartet comes together to develop the theme, a melancholy melody. Slowly the melody finds a more optimistic nature; a dignity and strength. There is a dramatic section before the music takes on a rhythmic, jaunty air that, eventually, becomes more laboured before picking up the pace again. A hushed section arrives for solo violin, high in its register, answered by the rest of the quartet before the music continues, full of emotion, so finely brought out by the Wihan Quartet. Eventually the jaunty theme returns soon offset by the more laboured, weighty theme. Towards the end the solo violin alternates with the cello displaying an emotional changeability before an impassioned section leads to a hushed coda.

William Zinn’s String Quartet No.1 was written in 1966, following the death of Benjamin De Miranda, the cellist in Zinn’s quartet. His fondness for the music of Beethoven is reflected in this work.

The Andante opens richly in the lower strings before expanding across the Quartet in an expansive, flowing theme that immediately carries the listener along.  Towards the end the music slows to a more reflective section that leads to the coda.

The Scherzo shoots off immediately, with each instrument chasing the other before soon developing into a syncopated waltz theme that is full of fun, darting around and, at times, becoming quite skittish.

The beautiful elegy that is the Requiem has lovely string textures that become quite heart rending as the melody develops, with harmonies often tearing at the emotions. The music tries to lift towards the end but strong chords bring back the tragedy of the earlier music.

From a simple opening the Fugato builds into a terrific fugue, developing the music freely through different keys and bringing some passionate sections.  Eventually the music slows before broadening with some intense playing as the tempo increases. Towards the end the music slows and quietens in a memorable section that leads to the hushed coda with some lovely harmonies.

This is a fine quartet full of emotional power, beautifully written.

Kol Nidrei Memorial dates from 1986 and was composed in remembrance of the six million innocent Jews that were slaughtered during the holocaust. How can one express, in music, feelings about the death of so many innocent people. William Zinn does so by taking a sacred, mournful Hebraic theme and developing it most eloquently. It opens high in the strings before a sad theme arrives with the Wihan Quartet extracting some fine, terse timbres. There is a hesitancy to this music as it feels its way forward with one hearing the Hebraic overtones of the original theme as the music increases in passion. But Zinn keeps the passion in check, seeming to seek to achieve an objectivity in the face of such tragedy. There are, nevertheless, moments of intense emotion as the music develops. This is a distinctive and finely constructed work that rises in drama and emotion with some rich, fine playing from the Quartet.

The Wihan Quartet brings all their terrific qualities of crisp ensemble, rich textures and sensitivity to detail to these fine pieces.  The recording is very fine and there are excellent booklet notes from the composer.

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