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CD Feature/ Lex van Delden: "Complete String Quartets"

img  Tobias

One of the eminent and most frequently played composers of his generation in the Netherlands during the 1950s and 60s, Lex van Delden is now on his way to attaining a similar position on CD. Posthumous, that is, as the former resistance member (his name is actually his wartime pseudonym and was only officially recognised in 1953) died in 1988 at a time, when he had withdrawn from his jorunalistic activities but was was still writing at the rate of about a work a year. A collection of Chamber Musical Works on German MDG marked a renewed interest in his oeuvre and now the very same label is back with a recording of van Delden’s three String Quartets. And once again his harmonic and melodic language, right in between the classical and avantgarde compartment, proves to have survived the test of time better than some of his supposedly progressive colleagues.

Sure enough, van Delden never wanted to be ahead of his time. In his vocabulary, “tradition” was not a four-letter word and more than anything, he was looking for ways of communicating with his audience, instead of alienating it. Maybe this had a lot to do with the fact that he was not only a composer and critic, but above all a listener himself, who would love to visit concerts regularly and enjoy renditions of “old” and “new” music alike. On the other hand, he was definitely not the antiquated conservative some of his opponents made him out to be. Even though all of his string quartets follow a logic of their own, they share the same sense of exploring and forging forward while remaining loyal to the things close to his heart. And all of them are always both one step away from resolving into clear harmony and from falling into disturbing atonality – like drinking a wonderful glass of red wine with a knot of sadness in your throat. There is something unfulfilled and yearning about these pieces, a notion of sorrow and of searching for beauty in desolate corners which makes one feel slightly uncomfortable, even though there is so much to cherish already on a first listen. This backwards mirror image of our usual reality may be explained by the fact that the accomplished modes and scales are placed in new contexts and relate to each other in surprising ways. Even though van Delden claimed to care little about discovering novel sounds, his scores reveal a deep insight into how timbre and technique could drastically alter perception. It is a good thing, therefore, that Dabringhaus and Grimm have recorded this, as their aesthetics of no post-meddling with production show how close the great Dutchman came to the electronic experiments of the first synthesizer pioneers with some of his compositions, which however never left the ground of “natural” instruments.

If you want to call his style “romantic”, then you’re not all too far off, either: The opening movement of “Musica di Catasto”, a bonus from the later years of his life, cites Tchaikovsky and is another example of his manifold influences and his capability to succeed in diverse disciplines. Van Delden had many talents and that may hamper his digital comeback – not easily caught as a writer of programme music, a classicist or a storm and stress hothead, he needs to be appreciated on his own terms. With releases like this one, there is a fair chance that he soon will be again.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lex van Delden Foundation
Homepage: Utrecht String Quartet
Homepage: Dabringhaus und Grimm

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