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String Quartet No 3, Op 46
1943; Theresienstadt

'Brundibár' (CDA67973)
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato –
Movement 2: Presto –
Movement 3: Largo –
Movement 4: Allegro vivace e ritmico

String Quartet No 3, Op 46
Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944) composed his first two string quartets in 1923 and 1936 respectively, the second getting a London performance in 1938, but they haven’t survived. The String Quartet No 3 was composed in Theresienstadt in 1943 and is distinctly Viennese in character, following classical models with a wistful, lyrical quality. There are two sorts of compositions from Theresienstadt: those that somehow reflect the circumstances in which they were written and those that are pure music. Ullmann’s chamber opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis (‘The Emperor of Atlantis’) is an example of the former while the quartet is a classical gem.

Ullmann’s third quartet is in four sections, but they run into each other to form a single-movement work that is fluid and concise. The searingly beautiful opening is scored for the four instruments in a mood of nostalgic melancholy which moves into a grotesque scherzo with the cello responding angrily and soothingly to what sound like taunts from the upper strings. Phrases are tossed from instrument to instrument and pizzicatos fly. Soothing the atmosphere, the lyrical melody of the opening returns but shifts towards a darker mood. This leads into the slow movement which begins with a chromatic note-row on the viola and then the cello building up a fugue-like texture. This is the emotional heart of the work and also has references back to the opening melody. The finale has a bold, assertive theme alternating with fast scurrying passages before returning to another variation of the opening music as a coda.

from notes by Simon Broughton © 2013

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