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4x4 North-West
John REEMAN (b. 1946)
Scena (2002)a [18 :11]
Anthony GILBERT (b. 1934)
String Quartet No.4 (2002)b [20 :54]
David ELLIS (b. 1933)
String Quartet No.3 Op.70 (2002)a [27:16]
Duncan DRUCE (b. 1939)
String Quartet No.4 (2005)a [11:44]
Manchester Camerata Ensemblea; Tavec String Quartetb
rec. (live) St Thomas Church, Stockport, March 2005 (Reeman); Bollington Arts Centre, Cheshire, march 2003 (Gilbert); Stockport Grammar School, July 2004 (Ellis) and Mellor Parish Church, Stockport, July 2006 (Druce)
CAMPION CAMEO 2046 [78:55]


John Reeman describes his Scena for string quartet as mini-drama. The four characters are introduced in the early stages of the work. At first the music unfolds as a series of monologues and dialogues, but increasing tension leads into an animated central section in which all four characters share some rather heated argument. Thereafter, tension lessens and the music drifts away calmly in a beautiful epilogue played by the violins in their upper registers. A really nice work in every respect.

Anthony Gilbert’s String Quartet No.4 is in four movements, the last three being a large-scale sets of variations on material presented in the short first movement (‘Chants’). The second movement (“Variations 1-45 – energetic, folky”) is an animated Scherzo unfolding “at breakneck speed”, mostly played pizzicato “with arco breaks”. In full contrast, the third movement (“Variations 46-51 – calm, intense”) is a strongly expressive, deeply felt Passacaglia, actually the emotional core of the work. The tension accumulated in the preceding movements is eventually released in the finale (“Variations 52-60 – play dirty”) ending “with a chopped-off restatement of the first variation”, thus bringing the work full circle. Gilbert’s Fourth String Quartet is an intricately worked-out piece of music and a compositional tour de force; but, as in many recent works by Gilbert, the communicative power of the music predominates. This is the sure mark of a master in full command of his aims and means. This substantial structure is without doubt the major work in this release.

Structurally David Ellis’s String Quartet No.3 Op.70 is in two substantial movements separated by a short interlude, of which the first is the most complex. It opens with a rather solemn introduction leading into a dance-like section; but, as it unfolds, the music alternates dance-like, animated sections and slower sections that often sound like varied restatements of the introduction, so that the first movement may be said to combine a sonata allegro and slow movement. The interlude hardly functions as a Scherzo, but rather as a short bridge into the second movement. This opens with an arresting, energetic fanfare. Allusions to the slow movement’ music and a “veiled fugue” briefly interrupt the forceful flow of the music that eventually ends abruptly.

Druce’s String Quartet No.4 is a single movement consisting of “fourteen vignettes deriving from Wuthering Heights; but the music is neither programmatic nor descriptive. This concise, colourful work may be experienced as a series of short studies in mood or as a short tone poem vividly suggesting the desolate, barren and wind-swept Yorkshire moors.

These recordings were made at different locations, which accounts for some differences in acoustics, particularly in the case of Gilbert’s Fourth String Quartet which – to my ears – was more closely recorded; but the recordings are all very fine. The performances are strongly committed and convincing. This is a very fine release with four appealing works that clearly deserve to be heard more than once. I enjoyed it enormously.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Christopher Thomas



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