ERICKSON Complete String Quartets
This is the first music by Robert Erickson (1917 97) that I have encountered (although New World has issued several others – note to self: investigate these further). Of humble origins, he was attracted to music as a child, eventually, by a rather roundabout, non-musical route, becoming an esteemed teacher with some impressive compositions to his name, including some early string quartets.
Erickson’s First Quartet was written piecemeal between August 1948 and January 1950. Rhythmically sprightly, it is written in a mildly, not unattractively expressionist language that owes something to Alban Berg, whose Lyric Suite made a profound impression on the young composer. Cast in three movements (fast slow-fast), it shows a mastery of the conversational medium but formally is a touch stiff. The freewheeling single-movement Second Quartet (1956) followed after a period of silence and represents a quantum leap in expressive imagination. It is a most impressive achievement.
The two unnumbered quartets, Solstice and Corfu, date from the mid-1980s. Solstice was composed during – and inspired by – the period of the winter solstice in December 1984, especially in the weeks or two either side ‘when the days are trying to decide whether to get shorter or longer’. A vivid, attractive fantasia, its sectional structure is belied by the sections mostly flowing into and out of each other. Corfu (1985) is similar in design but ‘bare and stripped down’. Erickson was obsessed during its composition by the civilisations of ancient Greece, though there is no specific connection to Corfu itself, which Erickson never visited. The Del Sol Quartet play with conviction, sounding right inside the idiom. New World’s recording is clear and natural, the players closely miked. Recommended.