Dag Wirén centenary.

Composer Dag Wirén would have been a hundred 2006. 
To celebrate the occasion, we present the Lysell Quartet's brilliant interpretation of his string quartets. Nominated to the Swedish Grammy Award 2006! Also choosed as ONE OF THE RECORDS OF THE YEAR by the swedish newspapers Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet.

Dag Wirén String quartets 
N:o 2 op 9 (1935) 
N:o 3 op 18 (1941/45) 
N:o 4 op 28 (1952-53) 
N:o 5 op 41 (1970)

Most people familiar with classical music know the Swedish composer Dag Wirén for his 1930s Serenade for Strings. It is bright, ebullient and optimistic music. By contrast the string quartet form raises expectations of something more grave, much more serious. The four quartets on this disc were written over a period straddling the Second World War and bring us to 1970. The period spans a total of 35 years.

The Second Quartet was written the year after Wirén’s marriage to cellist Noel Franks. It is a sunny work much inclined to happiness. In its busy textures, smiling tonality, contentment and joy-suffused athleticism it is a counterpart to the Serenade for Strings. The artless melodic of Wiren’s quartet parallels that of the Bax String Quartet No. 1, the Moeran quartets and the Dvorak late quartets. This sanguine mood, propensity for poetic mood-painting and candid song carries over into the wartime Third Quartet. That said, the Andante does tend towards a neo-classical fugal dryness. The first three of the four movements were written in close succession. The grave autumnal fourth movement was added in 1945. It remains a bustlingly active piece and was the first piece of music in which Wirén used the metamorphosis technique so closely associated with Vagn Holmboe.

The String Quartet No. 4 has, as the note-writer says, ‘an ethereal shimmer’. This enchanting and slightly chilly aural web recalls a slimmed-down amalgam of Szymanowski and Bartok. It is in five movements with two intermezzi, one marked Szymanowski and Bartok. It is in five movements with two intermezzi, one marked moderato the other prestissimo. The scorching downward-slashing violin ‘dives’ in the exhilarating prestissimo are memorable. The tonality has a tendency to wander… though pleasingly. The music unites gritty determination with a sinister or haunting quality. There is no denying the grave power of this music which also recalls the bleached melancholy of late Shostakovich.

The Fifth Quartet was written two years before Wirén forsook composition. The mood and style is a natural and not large progression from the last movement of the Fourth Quartet. The stripped-down textures, gnomic style and general air of elegiac abstraction recalls Holst’s Egdon Heath or the colder realms of Allan Petersson’s whispered and despairing symphonic lentos. Wirén however makes the wraiths dance and caper in the finale which gutters like a candle suddenly snuffed out.

Rather like Howard Ferguson, Wirén gave up composition and for his last fourteen years there were to be no new works.

These are certainly fascinating works with 2 and 3 winningly energetic and embracing joy. 4 and 5 powerfully reflect 20th century angst. Not to be missed.

Rob Barnett Musicweb International

Dag Wiren (1905-86) was raised in a musical home. By the time he was five he could read music and had determined to become a composer. As he matured, he admired Grieg, Mozart, and Bach. Wagner and Brahms he disliked, and 12-tone music was also not of interest to him. He labelled American pop music as broadcast by the Swedish radio “darned rubbish”.

After graduating from the Conservatory he studied composition for two years and then went to Paris for three years on a scholarship. In his adult life he lived on an island in the Stockholm archipelago in the summer and Stockholm in the winter, where he finished manuscripts. His composing was done on the island. He stopped composition in 1972, 14 years before his death. He said one must stop while one still has the sense to stop.

The four quartets cover almost his entire career. The second is dated 1935. This was the 
year after he returned from Paris and had married. It is a joyous work in three movements. 
Quartet 3 was written between 1941 and 1945. It is also light-hearted but it marks the 
beginning of Wiren’s future style of composing where he combines themes from the early 
movements into a finale.

Quartet 4 was written in 1952-53 and is one of Wiren’s most powerful works. Its 
movements last about 18 minutes. The notes describe it as having an “ethereal shimmer”.

Quartet 5 was written in 1970. I doubt that any of these quartets could have been written by anyone but Dag Wiren. Their style is definitely 20th Century, but it is tonal and conservative. They are extremely pleasant and stimulating works to listen to. Repeated hearings enhance your pleasure.

The Lysell Quartet has been in existence for nearly 20 years. They are one of Sweden’s foremost quartets. They play brilliantly and are very well recorded. One can pick out the location of each instrument, yet the blend is perfect. Good notes are supplied but fail to answer the question that inevitably arises about Wiren’s Quartet 1. Has it been lost? I have other recordings of Quartets 2, 3, and 5 but none as good as these.

American Record Guide September/October 2005

1021 Wirén String Quartets