JÓN LEIFS (1899-1968): String Quartets No. 1 "Mors et vita", Op. 21, No. 2 "Vita et mors", Op. 36 & No. 3 "El Greco", Op. 64.
Catalogue Number: 09Q067
Description: Only five of Leifs' 66 opus numbers are chamber works but these quartets share with his huge orchestral works a similar type of scene-painting. The first is a single-movement work of bleakness, gloom and anxiety - the sort of thing that wouldn't come as a surprise in September of 1939 from a composer living near Berlin with a Jewish wife - and the second is no fun either. Leifs' 17-year-old daughter drowned while swimming off the Swedish coast in 1947 and his despair and inability to come to terms with the fact is conveyed through emotionally devastating music of a horrifying obsessiveness (he took parts of four years, 1948-51, to finish it). The third, of 1965, is a five-piece suite of musical responses to five El Greco paintings; from the thunderstorm over Toledo of the first to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the final two, this is expressionist tone-painting par excellence. String Quartet of the Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra.