The German label MDG has given 2 CDs over to chamber music of the Dutch composer Lex van Delden, and this is the second and last to date of the two. It includes all 3 of his string quartets, and one work for string quintet. The composer's son, Lex van Delden Jr., provides the liner notes, as on the earlier MDG recording. van Delden composed in a fundamentally tonal language, with tinges of chromatic spice to mark his music as definitely of the 20th century.
van Delden's first string quartet is from 1954, during a time when his wife had suffered mental illness and the composer endured a period of depression, as per the liner notes. However, the work does not come off as particularly sad or morose. The spirit and style of Shostakovich hovers over the work, to me, sort of "Shostakovich with a Dutch accent", if that means anything. van Delden's second quartet was an arrangement of his seventh symphony for string orchestra, from 1964, for a quartet. It is perhaps the most "objective" of the quartets, in not being tied to any sort of personal strain or obvious external events for inspiration. The third quartet, from 1979, titled "Willink Tetraptych", was a commission tied thematically to the paintings of Carel Willink, where van Delden was shown 4 particular Willink paintings and Biblical texts as initial inspiration. Interestingly, and presumably without impetus from the commissioner of this quartet, van Delden worked in a musical quote from the "Storm" interlude of Benjamin Britten's 'Four Sea Interludes' from "Peter Grimes" at several points through the work. The 4 paintings are reproduced in the booklet.
The string quintet, sort of a "bonus work" after the 3 quartets, is called "Musica di Catasto", where the 5th string part is for double bass, as opposed to a second viola or cello. Cast in two movements, an 'Intrada' and a Passacaglia, this was a commission for the somewhat odd occasion of the 150th anniversary of land registry in The Netherlands, from the Netherlands Ministry of Culture. Per the liner notes, the idea of land registry came from France in 1812, where the term used was "cadastre". van Delden translated this word into a musical theme as the seed for the work. He also worked in a sardonic quote from Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" at several points, as kind of a musical-historical pun of sorts, though not in a P.D.Q. Bach rib-tickling sort of manner. As with the first string quartet, a sense of similarity to the style of the Shostakovich string quartets is palpable.
The Utrecht String Quartet is in excellent form throughout these recordings. Their name comes from the fact that the members met at the Utrecht Conservatory, and ironically enough, none of the quartet's members at the time of the recording were Dutch. However, the double bass player in the "Musica di Catasto", Quirijn van Regteren Altena, is most certainly Dutch, and contributes well in the quintet. Whatever van Delden's influences, this is well-crafted and engaging music, worth a trip off the beaten path.