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The British Quartet
Geoffrey KIMPTON (b. 1927)

String Quartet No.2 (1992) [17:17]
Alan BUSH (1900–1996)

String Quartet Op.4 (1923) [16:38]
David BECK (b. 1941)

String Quartet (1962) [15:07]
Kevin MALONE (b. 1958)

Aims, Goals, Targets and Objectives (2003) [8:08]
New World Quartet
rec. Cosmo Rodewald Hall, University of Manchester, 7-8 April 2007
CAMEO CAMPION 2071 [57:16]

Kimpton’s String Quartet No.2 was completed in about 1992 and first performed that year in St. David’s Cathedral. In his short insert notes, the composer mentions that the piece bears a subtitle: The Livingstone. This refers to the 19th century explorer thus suggesting that the music explores some basic ideas that unfold through metamorphosis. The composer also suggests "the biblical meaning of ‘living stones’ ... with the intention being to form a musical edifice with some spiritual meaning". The piece is laid out in a single movement in which the music develops from basic material, constantly transformed and expanded. Kimpton’s musical language is elegantly Neo-classical without pastiche, characterised by clarity and some understatement. It is actually not unlike Lennox Berkeley’s music.

The earliest work here is Alan Bush’s early String Quartet in A minor Op.4 of 1924. This must not be confused with the much better-known and more mature Dialectic Op.15 (1929) which I firmly believe to be one of his unquestionable masterpieces. Anyone familiar with this work will immediately notice the progress achieved by Bush between 1924 and 1929. While the somewhat later work is fully characteristic of Bush’s maturity, the earlier one is still considerably indebted to the musical world of its time, and Vaughan Williams often comes to mind. The piece is in three movements that do not entirely adhere to any traditional structure: a moderately fast first movement is followed by a short lively Scherzo, in turn by a somewhat longer Finale opening with a slow, song-like introduction leading into a more animated, dance-like main section. The music is quite attractive, sometimes with more than a hint of folk-inflected material. As a whole this is perfectly satisfying and very rewarding. A very welcome first recording.

David Beck’s String Quartet of 1962 is an early work written in Cambridge, when the composer was a post-graduate student, and intended to be an entry for the Cobbett prize. For whatever reason, the work lingered in the composer’s drawer till it received its first performance in 2007. Though in a single movement, the structure is modelled on what the composer describes as the ‘Bartókian symmetrical arch form’: slow, quick, slow, quick, slow. The music, too, is not unlike Bartók’s in its astringency and mild dissonance. Most of it is based on the opening fugue stated by the viola and later unfolds with some remarkable inner logic. An early work of which any young composer could be proud. A quite beautiful piece that deserves to be heard.

Kevin Malone is a very versatile composer, equally at ease with electronics which he often mixes with all sorts of ‘live’ instruments. His much earlier work for string quartet Fast Forward was released several years ago on ASC CS CD11 which I reviewed here some time ago. Aims, Goals, Targets and Objectives recorded here is more recent. The short notes state that it is "a downsizing process via exhumed cadences from Haydn’s String Quartet Op.74 No.3". Curiously enough the music succeeds in steering clear of pastiche or parody, although it possesses more than a pinch of mild musical humour. This includes what sounds to me to be a brief quote from Beethoven rubbing shoulders with equally brief allusions to Haydn. This eventually results in a deeply-felt, albeit none-too-serious homage to Haydn.

Four fairly contrasting works by composers from different generations and musical horizons. These are excellently played and well recorded and the disc makes for an attractive and interesting programme. It should appeal to anyone willing to explore some lesser-known byways of British quartet writing. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot




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