Once again this disc
points up the yawning gulf that separates
most pre-Great War works from those
written after the conflict. Sunnily
romantic Brahmsian heroics of various
stamps dominate the years from 1895
to 1914 (with some carry-over). There
was a tendency after 1918 for works
to find and fasten on to frivolity,
or severity or brutality.
Bax's 1922 Piano
Quartet illustrates the psychological
gear-change. It is bitter, terse, violent
and has no time for the luxury of expansive
romantics. Bax had found the same track
as Bartók who by coincidence
was also championed by the pianist Harriet
Cohen. The quartet may be in one movement
but it is no Cobbett-style Phantasy.
The same work also exists in a version
for piano and orchestra under the title
Saga-Fragment. This has been
recorded by Margaret Fingerhut on Chandos.
The Dunhill Piano
Quartet is from 1903 and speaks in smooth
and gracious numbers. The language is
broadly Brahmsian and will occasion
no listener any difficulty in coming
to appreciation. The regal writing in
the allegro moderato recalls the muscular
optimism of the Brahms second piano
concerto but flecked with episodes of
However the disc opens
with Hurlstone's Piano Quartet.
The allegro moderato is tumultuously
put across by the Primrose. You can
‘hear’ the flames licking at the heels
in the masterful peroration to the movement.
Then comes the committed writing and
playing of the andante cantabile.
This is touchingly Brahmsian material
- a trembling Viennese sunset of a piece.
The red-blooded Vivace ma non troppo
is unflinchingly played
and recording. This is no-holds-barred
romantic writing with a Dvořákian
roll at 1:50 melded with British folksong.
The finale starts lento non
troppo and moves into an allegro
giocoso; an approximately similar
tempo and mood as for the Dunhill. The
finale positively shouts élan
and there is cracking coordination from
all the players. This is a really spirited
reading with the engineers and any one
else attending the sessions surely having
had to bite their lips at the end to
avoid a shouted and thundered applause.
The music is very exciting and sanguine
recalling the manly heroics of Dvorak's
Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Triple
Concerto. An English flavouring also
enters with a folksy feeling looking
forward to Moeran's Bank Holiday
and Grainger's Shepherd's Hey.
The Quilter is
a brief genre piece with an Irish accent
and a zingharese flavour. Dvořák's
Slavonic Dances and Brahms’ Hungarian
Dances convey some of the same enraptured
and volatile dancing spirit.
I especially liked
the Primrose Quartet’s
alertness to the rhythmic life of these
pieces particularly in the finales of
the Dunhill and Hurlstone and in the
torrential Dvořák-inflected Dunhill
This is a classic and
generous collection of rare English
chamber music. I look forward to much
more from this source. Predominantly
for those with a taste for music written
under the benevolent but far from exclusive
aegis of Brahms and Dvořák.
A classic and generous collection of
rare English chamber music. ... see