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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE: String Quartets by female composers
Lucie VELLERE (1996-1966)
Quartet No.3 (1951)
Sarah ADERHOLT (b.1955)
String Quartet (1978)
Ruth SCHÖNTAL (b.1924)
String Quartet (1981)
Amy BEACH (1867-1944) Quartet
for Strings Op.89 (1942)
Priaulx RAINIER (1903-1986)
Quartet for Strings (1936/9)
The Crescent Quartet recorded in 1981 and the Alard Quartet (Rainier only) recorded in 1983.
CD transfer 1994 - originally on LP
LEONARDO LE 336
[66.33]



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I often say to female students who ask about music by women, "If you donít promote them who will?" It may seem a little harsh but belief in the ability of a contemporary female composer is only a recent phenomenon. Not many believed in Ethel Smyth until she was quite elderly and even then only because she was "a bit of a nuisance" to quote Thomas Beecham. So, these strong works by women are here performed by women and all performed excellently. Will they establish a foothold in the repertoire I doubt? This therefore is the only chance to hear them. I am reminded of Thea Musgraveís comment on the radio recently that it doesnít matter whether its by a man or a woman "the question is, is the music any good". But how can we know unless we are given at least a good chance of hearing the music well performed?

I suppose that if any of these names are known at all then Priaulx Rainierís will be the best known. Her quartet has been recorded before and broadcast several times over the years, however not for some time as she is now completely unfashionable.

Rainierís spiky, rhythmical and unsentimental language is the exact antithesis of that of Amy Beach whose luxuriant quartet immediately precedes it on the disc. This is a beautiful work in late-romantic style being in one movement but incorporating a variety of moods. These women make a good contrast, one American, one South African. Beach drew on Inuit (Eskimo) songs and used their melodies to present a predominantly lyrical piece. Rainier was deliberately inspired by primitivist African rhythmic patterns. Another recording of the Rainier can be found given by the Edinburgh Quartet on Redcliffe (RR007) where the Finale has far more excitement but where the slow movement lacks a strong direction. The Alard Quartet does a good job and is technically assured.

The American composer Sarah Aderholt is represented by the shortest quartet on the disc - at less than nine minutes. It packs a great deal into its time-span; being what the composer calls "a chance composition, since its duration and frequency of occurrence of the various melodic repetitions are left up to the performers. Firmly rooted in the E minor tonality the quartet builds slowly by the accretion of subtly changing ostinatos". The effect is hypnotic even Oriental. Perhaps the minimalists, especially Michael Nyman, are somewhere behind Aderholtís soundworld.

Ruth Schöntal is German by birth but is now a resident of New York. Her quartet is quite opposite to that by Aderholt. It is contrapuntal, chromatic, perhaps even twelve-tone; indeed at times the Alban Berg of the Lyric Suite, seems to be looking over her shoulder. Both quartets are in a single continuous movement although Schöntalís has regular changes of tempo and ends by quoting Schubert and Tristan!

Lucie Vellereís name is, Iím ashamed to say, a new one to me. However from now on I shall search her out. She was Belgian by birth and a pupil of Joseph Jongen. Her quartet is full of typical Gallic sensibility and delicacy. Its finely spun modal melodies, elusive harmony and subtle rhythmic interplays are reminiscent of Ravel or Jolivet. The work though sounds fresh and original and not derivative. It is in four movements but with a Presto second movement that is formally too short, at just over two minutes. Surely the Crescent quartet could have characterised its rhythms more decisively. They seem to have fallen completely under the allure of the piece and need a little more attack here and in the ĎVivoí fourth movement. Nevertheless there is some very sensitive playing and the quartet has a well judged sense of balance which is nicely captured.

Good notes on the composers and the works with photographs.

Well worth exploring.

Gary Higginson


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