Movement 1: Andante – Allegro molto moderato
Movement 2: Vivace
Movement 3: Adagio di molto
Movement 4: Allegretto, ma pesante
Movement 5: Allegro
These two works can be seen as private and public demonstrations of Sibelius’s depressive disposition. They likewise mark a shift in his musical language, echoing his friend Mahler’s own change in his final symphonies from unbridled (if equivocal) joy toward passive submission. A plangent theme in the first violin (answered by the cello) provides the material for the free opening movement. Like Smetana’s second quartet, Sibelius’s work (also in D minor) is concise, breathless and conversational. Sharper, accented motifs jar against long-spun phrases, while the movement’s final thick double-stopped chords (with bare fifths and octaves) make for a profoundly disquieting conclusion. The scurrying and brief scherzo that follows (Vivace) is no less disconcerting—albeit couched in major keys—as confidential undertones (often harmonically at odds with each other) are thrown from instrument to instrument. The emotional core of the work is in its central Adagio di molto (by far the most extended movement). Rhythmically it is deliberately unsteady and littered with rubato. This earnest outpouring indicates something of the crossroads that Sibelius was facing in his career. Themes sound as if in isolation, grappling to find security in the confluence of their voices. Rare moments of union are tender but brief.
After the balm of the Adagio’s F major conclusion, the triple-time Allegretto (ma pesante) that follows (returning us to the tonic) seems all the more brusque. Yet like the Adagio, there is a lack of inner direction, emphasized by the free harmony and a twisting accompaniment. While classical dance forms inform the movement, Sibelius’s language pushes down altogether more rhapsodic avenues. The underlying disquiet of the preceding movements comes to the fore in the tense whispers of the finale. Clinging to the ruins of the tonic in the final bars, the quartet as a whole is deeply ambivalent. Looking forward as well as back, the work eloquently depicts a point of mental crisis. With Voces intimae Sibelius left behind his Romantic past and embraced the dark, modernist future.
from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2011