MELLITS String Quartets Nos 3-5
The American composer Marc Mellits cut his creative teeth transcribing Steve Reich while absorbing the music of post-minimalists such as Michael Gordon. The result, as heard on this engaging and invigorating recording of three quartets spanning eight years, is a compelling synthesis that balances the process-driven approach of the former with the gritty, block-like structures of the latter. At times Mellits incorporates a third element in the form of romantically charged lyricism. All three are heard in the composer’s Quartets Nos 3, 4 and 5, played on this recording with a combination of poise, power and élan by the Debussy Quartet.
Composed in 2008, Mellits’s culinary-inspired Third Quartet (Tapas) shares the rhythmic energy and contrapuntal clarity of works written around the same time, as heard on ‘Tight Sweater’ (Endeavour Classics, 2006) and ‘Paranoid Cheese’ (Black Box, 10/07). The Debussy Quartet spring into life by pouncing purposefully on a single repeated C pitch. This abrasive style is continued during the fourth and seventh movements. In between, more introspective aspects are explored, such as the fifth-movement series of variations on a three-chord pattern which playfully alternates between major and minor resolutions.
Despite its fiery subtitle, Prometheus, Mellits’s Quartet No 4 (2011), remains a more subtle and delicate work until the arrival of an explosive finale. Mellits moves away from his early trademark miniaturist mode to a broader canvas, where lines are given more time and space to take shape. The Fifth Quartet, Waníyetu (2015), takes its title from the native American Lakota word for winter, which can be bitingly cold in northerly parts of the American Midwest. Mellits again holds back during the opening movements before unleashing a blizzard of interlocking patterns over a powerful pulsing chord sequence in a final, impressive flourish.