Diverso Plays Modern Quartets


PANUFNIK: String Quartet No. 3, “Paper Cuts.” BACEWICZ: String Quartet No. 4. SZYMANOWSKI: String Quartet No. 1 / Diverso String Qrt / Recart 0024

The Diverso String Quartet, a relatively new Polish group, likes to perform both classic and modern works, which in my view is the way ALL classical musicians should be, but alas, as we all know, this is scarcely the case. Singers in particular cling tenaciously to the old-timey stuff as if it was given to them by God, refusing to move any further forward than 1924, and most instrumental performers (and orchestras) aren’t far behind. Of course, most of this is due to the fact that their audiences refuse to grow up and use their brains, preferring spoon-fed tonal Pablum for the masses.

Indeed, it’s difficult to call any of these three quartets “modern” in the strictest sense of the word; the most modern of them being Andrzej Panufnik’s last quartet, subtitled “Paper Cuts,” which was written almost 30 years ago, but in the world of Safe Classical Music they’re still trying to come to grips with Debussy, Stravinsky and Szymanowski, whose first quartet, represented here as well, was written in 1917.

I was never a big fan of Panufnik’s music, and to my ears this quartet is typical of his output, a sort of mind game played with note spacing and sequence of tones, but in places he did create an interesting ambience. The playing of the Diverso Quartet is very bright in tone, which suits the character of this music.

Of course the Bacewicz Fourth Quartet, like so many of her works, is a stunning one. I have an excellent recording of it, along with her other six quartets, by the Lutosławski Quartet on Naxos. Diverso’s performance is quite good in its overall contour if a little lacking emotionally when compared to Lutosławski. Granted, they play all the notes and dynamics markings faithfully, yet there seems to be a little more caution and a little less emotional commitment in this recorded performance.

The same holds true of the Szymanowski quartet. I recommend the recording by Quatuor Joachim on Calliope, which also includes the Quartet No. 2. The Diverso Quartet holds a lot of promise, and I decided to publish this review despite my misgivings because I applaud their versatility, but geez, kids, learn to play with some feeling, OK?

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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