William WALTON (1902 - 1983)
String Quartet in A Minor 28'49"
Piano Quartet in D Minor * 28'37"
Maggini Quartet Peter Donohoe
Recorded Potton Hall, Suffolk,UK.
May 30 - June 1 1999 DDD Naxos 8.554646 [57'38"]
Of all the strands in William Walton's composing life - symphonies and orchestra
music, film scores, choral works and opera - the handful of chamber music
he wrote is probably the least known. There were eight pieces in total over
a writing lifetime of about sixty years. The two featured on this new disc
are his String Quartet in A Minor, written as a mature work in the
mid-1940's and the early Piano Quartet. Neither work is particularly
well-known, nor frequently played or recorded, so perhaps this excellent
new release on a budget label will allow the curious to explore for themselves.
The A Minor String Quartet, was written during 1945 - 47 and first
performed in '47. Incidentally a transcription of the work, with help from
Malcolm Arnold, is extant as Sonata for Strings. It has the usual
four movements, an Allegro - full of jagged rhythms and with a central
fugal passage, a hard-driven, Presto second movement full of spiky
wit, and a following Lento that seemed to me to be the nub of the
work. Curiously I found the emotion from this movement to be contemplative
and introspective, almost autumnal - strange considering that Walton was
under forty when he wrote it. It ends with a rapid fire fugue. Throughout
there were hints and reminders of his other works - especially his first
Symphony. You know the feeling when you here a piece on the car radio - most
composers have their little quirks and favourites that give them away. The
recording is excellent - close but with good internal balance and the Maggini
Quartet are up to their usual high standard.
We go back twenty years for the Piano Quartet. Walton wrote it as a teenager
in 1918/19, revised it a couple of years later before publication in 1924.
Clearly it is not a major work but one that deserves a hearing and in its
four movements there is much to admire. An especially interesting
Scherzando with a hushed fugal central section before the piano comes
in with a big, powerful theme and the following deeply intense Andante
Tranquillo with muted strings catch the ear. The Allegro Molto
which opens with some ferocious attack from the strings, sounds at times
like a near relative of Petrushka. A precocious work, well performed
and recorded with just the merest touch of too much piano in the balance
at times. A minor reservation in an enjoyable disc.