String quartets no 4, 6, 7 and 8 played by Lysell quartet.

John Fernström was one of the most productive Swedish composers of his generation. His composition is characterised by technical expertise, skilful counterpoint and instrumentation combined with fantasy and a rich inventivness.

Fernström has in his string quartets - perhaps more than in any other of his works - given free rein to his experimental style as regards harmony, rhytm and colour.

The four string quartets presented here together give us samples of the most prominent characteristics in his compositional style. They all bear the stamp of the composer's imaginative inventiveness.

The Lysell Quartet was established in 1986 and through precision and intensity worked its way to the top of the Swedish echelon. The violins are Bernt Lysell and Per Sandklef, the viola Thomas Sundkvist and Mikael Sjögren the cello.

The Quartets emphasis on dynamic nuances and rich sonority has brought success at international concert tours and festivals. Press reviews have stressed the "rich tone control" and "the consummate joy of playing".

Nr IV Eb major opus (1942) 
1. Allegro molto vivace [5.44] 
2. Adagio cantabile [4.13] 
3. Final-Rondo Allegro assai [4.24]

Nr VI in the 7th gipsy key of G opus 81b (1946) 
4. Allegro [5.08] 
5. Lento doloroso [4.30] 
6. Scherzo vivo [2.05] 
7. Finale allegro [5.05]

Nr VII opus 91 (1950) 
8. Moderato [7.04] 
9. Andante [4.42] 
10. Scherzo vivace [5.07] 
11. Finale Allegro [5.21]

Nr VIII in Dorian mode opus 93 (1952) 
12. Andante [2.05] 
13. Allegro non troppo, deciso ed energico [2.38] 
14. Andante un poco sostenuto [4.45] 
15. Allegro moderato [3.52]

Total: [67.36]


Swedish composer and painter John Fernström (1879-1961) reached musical maturity between the wars. On top of a dozen symphonies, he composed at least eight quartets, four of which receive extreme well-argued readings here from his younger compatriots, members of the Lysell Quartet.

These works are superbly written for strings – reflecting Fernström’s own gifts as a violinist (he was concertmaster of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra among others). Musically he stayed abreast of the wind of change all around him- deeply rooted in the Classical and Romantic traditions but alert enough to experiment with serialism. Here, however, his main sympathies lie with the late quartets of Beethoven, whose instinctive format grasp, contrapuntal textures and layerings form a starting point for his own abstract explorations.

The Lysell Quartet brings a particularly good rhythmic sense and the right kind of acerbity to these four works, in which carefully balanced counterpoint, canon and fuge play a major role. Curiously it is the first, in E flat major (1942), in which the independent first violin (Bernt Lysell) predominates, which stands out from the rest, with a catchy folk element permeating the final Rondo. The introduction of a ’gypsy’ scale (with added C sharp) lends it an attractive folksy character. Both the last two movements – notably the rocking finale –are rhythmically alive.

There are shades , too, of Beethoven’s A minor, whose prayerful spirit Fernström catches in the (rather grittily played) Lento doloroso, and in the Andante of Quartet no. 7 (1950), whose angst is joyously exorcised by the finely played ensuing Scherzo and fuge-led finale. The moody Sostenuto of no. 8 (1952) is equally well sustained.

Roderic Dunnett - The Strad

Fernström’s music displays a generous dose of experimentation and craftsmanship. The first movement of the fourth quartet seethes with ideas. In the sixth he makes use of the so-called Gypsy key (a scale of G minor with C sharp), which endows the music with special effects. Church mode are also in evidence.

This is a brilliant achievement by the Lysell Quartet. The fast movements are played with admirable virtuosity and the slow ones with a cantabile tone of intense warmth.

The Chinese characters on the cover, standing for “string music”, allude to Fernström having been born in China.

Tibor Fülep -

Happy to relate, the vigorous manifestations two years ago marking the centenary of John Fernström’s birth were not just a flash in the pan. Recordings have continued to be made, and this quartet release is one of the very best of them.

For the centenary in 1997, Naxos brought out a recording of Fernström’s third, sixth and eighth quartets by the Vlach Quartet, which also gave a Fernström concert in Lund. With all due deference to the Czechs, they are firmly sidelined by the Lysell Quartet’s recording of the same sixth and eighth quartets, together with the fourth and seventh. The Swedish group has quite a different incisiveness, clarity and articulation.

A new and very welcome acquaintance for my own part was the fourth quartet – cheerful, accessible but at the same time concentrated music, and so typical of Fernström in being at one and the same time canon-like contrapuntal and melodic.

Other Swedish composers were also writing contrapuntally about fifty years ago, but exclusively in what were often the parched footsteps of Paul Hindemith. Not so Fernström, and nowhere is his learning so lightly worn as in these quartets.

Lennart Bromander - Arbetet

Fernström cuts no corners in these beautiful and intricate quartets, weaving a complex, eventful musical fabric which at the same time is transparent, luminous and fresh-faced. He succeeds in being philosophical, intellectual, complicated and elevated, while at the same time being bright, full of vibrant fun, sometimes with a touch of the burlesque, and close at hand.

What is more, these quartets under the Daphne label are superbly performed. The Lysell Quartet have done a brilliant job, and the record company’s engineers have produced the best-sounding record I’ve heard for a long time. The sound quality is a delight in itself!

Ingvar Loco Nordin - Gränslöst

The Lysell Quartet make a significant contribution by presenting four of John Fernström’s eight string quartets. Fernström’s copious output was based on a wide-ranging exploration of the stylistic world around him. His was a forceful nature and perhaps too an impatient one. The seventh quartet, not least, is both cast in one piece and of many parts – chamber music which does not fight shy of broad flows of sound with an intensive lyrical core. It is easy to make friends with his music, because there are so many characteristics about it that sound familiar, but getting to grips with it can be more difficult. The reason for this difficulty lies not so much in impersonality as in a challenging diversity.

Hans-Gunnar Peterson -

On this evidence, John Fernström’s simple and well-made quartets are most enjoyable even as (because?) they don’t try to compete with Bartokian and Shostakovchian everests. Kodaly might be a better comparison.

You couldn’t ask for more committed performances than these from the Lysell Quartet. Daphne’s sound is clear yet warm, with the perfect ambience and mike placement giving a nice account of both the quartet’s overall sound and details from each individual player.

ASHBY - American Record Guide


1009 John Fernström String Quartets