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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 'Voces Intimae' (1908) [33:07]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)

String Quartet (1916) [27:39]
Sonata in one movement for Cello and Piano (1916) [12:25]
Fitzwilliam String Quartet (Christopher Rowland (violin I); Jonathan Sparey (violin II); Alan George (viola); Ioan Davies (cello))
George Isaac (cello); Martin Jones (piano)
rec. The Maltings, Concert Hall, Snape, December 1978 (L'Oiseau-Lyre DSLO 47) (Quartets); University College, Cardiff, October 1971, (Argo ZRG 727) (sonata). ADD.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 9486 [73:27]
Experience Classicsonline

The quartet performances here were classics of the LP catalogue and it will delight many that they return now in such virile analogue sound. And ‘virile’ is the word. Both artists and engineers are of the same mind. The end result is performances and recordings that "ply the saplings double" – and not just saplings. The Fitzwilliam pour on the power in the Sibelius. This is certainly impressive stuff with a towering impact that goes beyond what one would expect from a mere four string instruments. Other more recent recordings will have more variation in dynamic and more delicacy; Bis and Finlandia – the latter with the New Helsinki [review]. As yet the Fitzwilliams are unmatched if you prize potency, piled-high intensity and close-up lapel-grabbing sound. You can hear distant traffic rumble right at the beginning of the Sibelius. We are prepared for the thirty year old recordings by the front-cover photograph with the quartet resplendent in the long collar shirts and jackets and hair-cuts of that era.

The Delius is just as closely miked – right in the thick of it! This work evinces more give and take but is ‘flown’ just as hard as the Sibelius. Some Delians may find it all too tense and unremitting. Personally I find this approach a breath of fresh air. From the same year comes the Cello Sonata. It was written - as was the Cello Concerto - for Alexander Barjansky. It is a work with a glowingly rounded and generous-hearted sunset lyricism. This is well put across by Isaac and Jones without the radiance and cohesive coherence achieved by Julian Lloyd-Webber. The sound is from 1971 and this too is evident.

While one small error in the notes is irritating – it is Evlyn Howard-Jones not Evelyn – the work of Alan George and Raymond Tuttle is excellent. Worth passing on that Eric Fenby who with Barjansky played the Delius sonata to the composer assisted the Fitzwilliam in preparing for the recording sessions as did Sidney Griller with the composer’s own metronome markings for the Sibelius.

Powerhouse performances of three little known works. You may find it just a shade too much in the Delius pieces.

Rob Barnett


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