William Zinn : Works for String Quartet
Nimbus NI6256

Quartet Wihan
Leoš Čepický (violin)
Jan Schulmeister (violin)
Jiří Žigmund (viola)
Aleš Kaspřík (cello)
  • Elie Wiesel (A Portrait) 18:43
  • String Quartet No. 1
    1. Andante 5:38
    2. Scherzo3:58
    3. Requiem 5:57
    4. Fugato 8:28
  • Kol Nidrei Memorial 14:06
"After reading the book Memoirs, which outlines the life story of Elie Wiesel, I became intrigued to learn more about the man and his talents as an author. With the inhuman trials and tribulations of a holocausts survivor, he became an important worldwide figure. As a composer, I decided to pay tribute to this man, and to honour him by expressing musically my impressions of his character and accomplishments. I have chosen the medium of the string quartet for its inherent seriousness, its sensitivity and its depth. The music does not represent a depiction or a description of events, but rather, my emotional responses to the overcoming of his hardships and internal struggles.

My first string quartet was composed in 1966 upon the death of the cellist of my quartet, at the age of 60. Benjamin De Miranda was a fine musician, oil painter and intellectual. In a moving poem to his wife, he requested that Beethoven’s Cavatina Op.130 be played at his funeral. Since he was fond of Beethoven, I composed the music in the style of Beethoven. Dedicated to those individuals who have sacrificed themselves, and continue to do so, for the cause of freedom.

The Kol Nidrei Memorial was composed in remembrance of the six million innocent Jews that were slaughtered during the holocaust. I took the most sacred, mournful theme in all Hebraic music, and built a composition upon it. The theme for the deceased is repeated five times, in different ranges, on different instruments and with different variations each time. The rest of the piece is serious but uplifting, bringing hope and optimism for the future."


Elder statesman musician William Zinn is not quite a stranger to Nimbus. He has written a lot and his scores have been at the service of all the woodwinds, brass, strings, harp, guitar, harmonica and piano. Amid his idiosyncratic catalogue of 500+ works is the Seven Seasons: seven multi-movement tone poems based on the seven most prominent Jewish holidays, a Siegfried Rhapsody and a 24-movement harp trio. Composer-violinist Zinn has also been a member of many major orchestras.
There is not a scintilla of dissonance here. This is a contemporary composer who writes for the string quartet - and presumably for other instruments also - in a refined idiom redolent of late Beethoven or Schubert. The Elie Wiesel portrait derives from the experience of reading the life story of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who grew to be an important worldwide figure who in 1986 received the Nobel Peace Prize. This sumptuous and earnest music is an intensely concentrated blend of Bachian grandeur and Beethovenian gravitas. There is a light-hearted touch of kletzmer at 12.10. Very much in the grand tradition, this work ends in a stirring maestoso.
The four movements of the String Quartet No. 1, written in the wake of the death of cellist Benjamin De Miranda, are again in consummate Beethovenian garb. The opening movement is a seraphic Arioso which recalls Finzi and Suk. The Scherzo is buzzingly active - affable and amiable in the manner of Smetana. After the streaming legato continuum of the third movement, the finale is radiant and fugal. There’s a touch of Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra here. The quartet ends in a quietly warbling stratospheric jostle of harmonics.
This not very long-playing disc ends with Zinn’s take on Kol Nidrei. It is dedicated to those individuals “who have sacrificed themselves for, and continue to do so for, the cause of freedom”. As expected this is very touchingly done and with that sincere Beethovenian accent we have come to expect. This is a telling cortčge, splendidly brooding, dignified and borne high in triumph.
This music is likely to make a provocative companion to the string quartets of Robert Simpson (4-6) and George Rochberg.
William Zinn has provided the straightforward and open liner notes - how could they be anything other than authoritative.

Rob Barnett