The Benyounes Quartet
St Eanswythe's Church, Folkestone
10th October 2020
It is curious that a piece with this title, ‘dying’, should be so alive – alive with a vitality not only of invention but of self-invention, by which notes and motifs keep being copied or corrected by one instrument after another. It is odd, too, that this expiring music stays most of the time so loud, which may add to the sense of a musical machine careering along at full throttle, even if generally at a moderate, if jerky, pace, its march tempo subverted by syncopations and irregular note values.
Playing for about ten minutes, the piece is divided into twenty-three sections, rather as if it were a set of variations, which it slightly is, on a pattern of four chromatic neighbours presented right away, in emphatic unison. As a theme, however, this is at once too small to have a clear identity and too big for the composer’s purposes. Instead, the pattern – down a whole tone, up a minor third, down a whole tone – is broken down into constituents that swarm pretty much all through.
The unison starts to be disrupted in the second section, by the cello, after which all bets are off. Even while strongly connected, the instruments can show they have minds of their own. And though the piece is all about notes, it does not have very much to do with traditional quartet ensemble textures; the mood of give-and-take is replaced by urgent jostle.
Then it stops, turns into something else. The instruments don mutes, slow down, space out. The tempo picks up again after this, but the clock is breaking down. Morendo.