VALEN String Quartets
The reputation of Fartein Valen (1887-1952) lies chiefly on his polished, atonal orchestral works, including four symphonies, a masterly – if brief – Violin Concerto and tone-poems such as Le cimitière marin. The Norwegian String Quartet recorded the Second Quartet (193031) back in the 1980s for Simax but otherwise I am not aware of any other recordings of the quartets, at least none that have been available widely.
The two numbered quartets are in Valen’s mature atonal style but the early ‘Op 0’ (1909) was written in the warmly late-Romantic style one would expect from an apprentice studying with Bruch in Berlin. Although in at least three movements originally (the finale may never have been completed), only the first two, an Andante and Scherzo, reached their final form and are premiered here. They show Valen’s undoubted talent but the stylistic jump to the First (192829) is even larger than that between Schoenberg’s 1897 D major Quartet and the Second of 1910.
The First’s premiere (in 1932) went remarkably well for such an advanced work at the time, perhaps because its expressive profile is fairly conventional and clear-cut, the concise opening Moderato succeeded by a short but moving Adagio, whirlwind Scherzo and concluding Rondo. The Second (193031) followed on quickly but its structure of Fugue-Minuet-Finale is more elusive. The Hansa Quartet prove exemplary advocates of these fascinating scores, which include a set of tiny Goethe settings, arranged by the lead violinist of the premiering quartet and ably sung by Hilde Haraldsen Sveen. 2L’s SACD sound is excellent and once again a Blu-ray disc is provided in tandem. Recommended.