Movement 1: Andante – Allegro
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro
The quartet as a whole is written within a D minor/ D major orbit, and laid out on a large scale: it has only three movements, but these are broadly proportioned. The quartet sound, moreover, is generally very richly scored. The harmonic idiom is one of strong late-Romantic tonality, with roving key areas and chromatic intensification but little free chromatic voice-leading that might undermine the sense of tonal cohesion. (Analogies might perhaps be drawn here with Suk, Dohnányi, Reznicek, or Korngold.) After an opening Andante as slow introduction, in which we hear the leading theme of the movement first presented, the Allegro follows a clear sonata pattern, with contrasting tonal and thematic areas observed, and appropriately dramatized, in the expected places. The expressive ebb and flow within different areas of the movement is reflected in a wide range of subsidiary tempo indications and other performance markings. There is no exposition repeat. Instead, the long lyrical second subject group (broadly in F major, though approached from flat-side keys) flows out directly into strong, chromatically developed material—appassionato then ancora più appassionato—and from there into a quieter, if still impassioned, phase of development in which new motivic working is heard against sul ponticello textures (where the bow plays very near to the bridge). The development contains perhaps the most striking and original writing within the movement, showing real drive and, in its later stages, a rhythmic power and strong chordal articulation of a kind quite beyond the usual late-Romantic range.
The opening of the G flat major second movement brings a quiet melody played con sordino with ‘artless’ simplicity (initially on viola, followed by first violin), accompanied in a homophonic, almost hymnic style—but with lyric sensuality rather than sublimity as the main expressive goal. After a period of intensification which moves through a central modulatory section, beginning quietly but then growing (Molto tranquillo followed by poco stringendo e crescendo), we hear the main theme again in its home key, more broadly scored this time across a wider tessitura (marked ff largamente), before it returns once more to a lower tessitura, to be played in the original tempo and in a quieter texture.
The vigorous third movement begins with a boisterous theme of drive and buoyancy, almost as much scherzo as finale in character. In this material we catch a strong hint of a direct, popularizing style. The energy of the material is expressed through phases of intensification and changes of tempo (accelerando, then Tempo I) and through contrasting subsidiary sections (Meno [mosso] and sul ponticello, then Lento). The ‘home tempo’ Allegro eventually returns again, and just prior to the final paragraph there is an ‘apotheosis’ of the lyric theme from the slow movement (Quasi andante in G flat, followed by Lento in G major). The peroration is to be played giocoso: a joyous and exuberant sprint to the finish.
from notes by Philip Weller © 2009