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Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 603 1436-2 £14 [67 mins]

LEX VAN DELDEN (1919-1988) is new to me and, on the basis of this disc, well worth investigating. These are superb pieces of music, superbly played and excellently recorded. Many contemporary composers are often so difficult to comprehend as to deny them immediate access to the new listener. Not so Van Delden. Here we have music with a completely individual voice that is accessible at once to any listener used to, say, Bartok, Shostakovich, or Robert Simpson.

The excellent booklet (by the composer's son) quotes van Delden's own, perspicacious commentary on the state of musical affairs around the time he wrote these works. He had this to say about many of the avant-gardists: “Today's composing seems increasingly concerned with the outward appearance of musical matter, developing the aural material ever more intricately and committing it to paper in ever more complicated notation systems… I feel that many of these sonic investigations overlook the true value of art [which is] to communicate [itself] to the listener and in so doing, contribute meaningfully to society.”

There are three quartets dating between 1954 and 1979, with a very beautiful piece for string quartet plus double bass. In the latter work the bass does not slavishly underscore the cello part but is very definitely an additional voice in the true homogenetic sense – and very exciting it sounds too.

This music is no more ‘difficult’ than its distant cousins, Janacek and Bartok. The opening work, Quartet III of 1979, was inspired by the paintings of Carel Willink, a Magritte-like painter, but is no more surreal than the other quartets from twenty years earlier. Indeed, it is the final, short string quintet that is the most uncanny and other-worldly work on the disc. The performances are notable for their sense of both smoothness and attack; they are closely recorded after the modern fashion, but not intrusively so.

Lex van Delden's music is very worth attention and I urge you to give it shelf space and listening time.

Dennis Day