Quartets: One-Four is a dream come true for Peter Gregson, a long-time goal achieved. From 2016-17, the cellist released a pair of string quartet EPs, but had always hoped to compile “a quartet of quartets.” The new music added this year completes the task. Over eighty minutes of music is present, an entire evening concert that displays a thrilling array of emotion. When playing the full set back-to-back, allowing “Quartet Two” to lead to “Three,” one can intuit an overall scheme.
The first quartet begins with a flutter, but swiftly settles down. Titled “Primary Colours,” the first movement also serves as an overture, the slightly synaesthetic hint of the cover art conveyed through music. Much of “Quartets One and Two” is romantic and lush ~ eight tracks out of nine ~ leading to a surprising denouement. The forwardness of the cello in “Sequence (Three) is the first dramatic development, connoting adventure and challenge, quickly spent and collapsing on a soft cushion. After this, the timbre grows sweeter, even coy, despite the presence of one darker title (“Duplicity,” which ends the first quartet).
The electronic introduction of the second quartet quickly distinguishes it from the first. The groundwork is being laid for a late-quartet shift, so subtle it might be missed. “Warmth” yields an extremely quiet pulse, a modern sheen. Synthetic pops dance in the background of “Plainchant.” In “Drone,” the electronic elements seep to the fore, as if they had been waiting patiently all along. The distance traveled from “Primary Colours” now seems much further than first imagined. But just as “Sequence (Four)” sets the stage for “Drone,” “Drone” sets the stage for “Even,” appearing five years – but only one track – later.
“Quartets Three and Four” are quieter than their predecessors, more reflective and subdued. One wonders if this development has to do with age, perspective, or the pandemic’s imposed solitude. The newer pieces are introspective, but not introverted, the calm “Even” suggests nostalgia and the passing of time. Although only five years have passed between compositions, this seems like the work of a more mature composer. The plucks of “Up” land like rain, playful as puddles, a possible single, a counterpart to the more pensive “Sequence (Eight)” below. The static hum of “Drone” reappears in “…from a memory,” softer and more integrated, ceding the foreground to the strings. The balance between organic and electronic elements is exquisite, a perfect integration.
And now there is only one quartet left, the finish line in sight. “Three Parallels” is confident and playful, as if the harder times have passed and the composer is at home in his own skin. Green is not a primary color, but here it is, life expanding, prospects emerging, the lessons of a lifetime swirling into wisdom and grace. The quartet of quartets is complete; the next bout of inspiration awaits. (Richard Allen)