Movement 1: Largo sostenuto, mesto
Movement 2: Deciso, energico, marcatissimo sempre
Movement 3: Arioso: Adagio cantabile ma molto espressivo e molto appassionato
Movement 4: Allegro sempre con grande passione e molto marcato
A trudging cello E natural underpins much of the opening movement, whose main feature is the weeping semitone of the viola. When all four instruments come into play, Górecki recalls the chordal drone theme from the first quartet, this time marked Tranquillo (it also appears towards the end of the second movement). This cross-reference, like the recurring Beethovenian chords, reinforces the notion that, despite the four distinct movements, the second quartet is modelled on the freer associative process of the fantasia.
The first movement ends with the first appearance of the Beethovenian chords, which are followed immediately by the rumbustious folk-dance of the second movement. This is both more extended and more vigorous than its counterpart in the first quartet, although the idea of duetting pairs of instruments is still the mainstay. The third movement, Arioso, pairs diatonic chordal accompaniment with a specific type of melodic dissonance, implied in the first quartet, where one line is paralleled in rhythmic unison with another that is an octave and a semitone away. The powerfully unsettling dissonance of the minor ninth is a feature of much of Górecki’s instrumental music since the 1980s. The movement ends, however, in a generally consonant frame of mind.
The finale, a fast-moving, even furious sequence of folk-influenced ideas, is the most developed movement, and in itself is worthy of the work’s title. Its greatest surprise comes at the end, when a skeletal version of the opening phrases of the world’s best-known carol emerges over one of the Beethovenian chords, Lento, tranquillissimo. It is an intriguing and unexplained diversion. The quartet ends, as did its predecessor, with a reference to its opening bars.
from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2011