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
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.