The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Stenhammar Quartet
Composer: Gothe, Hillborg, Mårtensson, Pelo

This disc brings together string quartets composed within the last five years by four leading Swedish composers, three of whom use the medium to produce sounds rather than conventional thematic material. The exception comes in Anders Hillborg’s Kongsgaard Variations, which uses the tonality of the Arietta from Beethoven’s last piano sonata as its basis, a playful gesture towards the work’s wine-making dedicatees, the Kongsgaards, and their Arietta wine range. Elsewhere the scores reside in the world of atonality. Per Mårtensson’s is the most extensive and traditional in its use of four movements, cast within the framework of dialogues between the four instruments. Its very wide mood swings are also a characteristic of Mats Larsson Gothe’s Visions and ecstasies, where the music moves rapidly from high impact to ghostly images. Mika Pelo goes even further in fashioning a fascinating mosaic of sonorities in his one-movement score.

Even faced with many exacting technical hurdles, the playing of the Stenhammer’s musicians is always assured, and the frequent use of complex rhythms and oscillating tempo shifts emerge with total naturalness. From the brutal colours Gothe fashions to those that rapidly evaporate in the Mårtensson, they obtain that detailed balance between instruments on which much of this music lives or dies. The recording is of outstanding quality.