John Pickard, now in his late thirties, has a considerable
body of substantial works to his credit, including three symphonies
and four string quartets as well as numerous orchestral and instrumental
works. (Some time ago, his Piano Sonata and his piano
piece A Starlit Dome were released on Athena ATH
The String Quartet No.2 dates from 1993.
It is a compact single movement work falling into three distinct and
very contrasted sections. The quite animated opening section leads into
a beautifully lyrical slow movement featuring an impassioned viola solo.
This is followed by a lively Finale "culminating in an energetic
and optimistic conclusion".
The String Quartet No.3 is in three movements
of some substance. The first movement opens with an angry gesture and
the turbulent mood of the ensuing music gets some considerable momentum,
interrupted by a more lyrical second subject progressively leading to
a powerful restatement of the opening theme. This leads straight into
the slow movement, a slow, intense meditation reaching an impassioned
climax before slowly reverting to the calmer mood of the opening. The
last movement is a beautiful, consolatory piece of music bringing this
wonderful work to its peaceful conclusion.
The String Quartet No.4, completed in
1998 and dedicated to the Sorrel Quartet who have given several concert
performances of the Third String Quartet, is a quite different work.
The first movement Sinfonia, roughly cast in the form of a classical
overture (slow introduction followed by an Allegro section) acts
as a stately prelude. The second movement Concerti is quite unusual.
It is, according to the composer, "a set of impudent character
sketches of its dedicatees" and a quite unorthodox piece of music.
It opens with the quartetís tuning. Then each member of the quartet
has her own solo: a slightly ironic waltz for the viola, a mock Italian
Concerto for the second violin and an intense recitative for the cello.
In each concerto, the first violin however tries to take over and eventually
manages to do so in the fourth concerto, "a mad gallop", which
finally falls apart and the music simply peters away. The long final
movement Fantasia of Four Parts is a quite serious matter in
which Pickardís contrapuntal mastery is evident throughout. It opens
ruminatively and slowly speeds up to reach the exuberant conclusion.
Though obviously from the same pen, each quartet has
its own character. Pickardís models are fairly evident, i.e. Bartók
and Shostakovich, though he clearly manages to be his own man. His magnificent
string quartets (I wish I could hear the First some time) are worthy
successors of those by Bartók, Shostakovich or John McCabe, and
certainly do not pale when compared with these masterpieces.
The Sorrel Quartet, who have already put us much in
their debt with their previous recordings, play with dedication and
conviction. They obviously love the music and relish every ounce of
it. Their performances, superbly recorded, could hardly be better and
serve the music well. I for one hope that this very fine release will
soon trigger further recordings of Pickardís personal, gripping music
and one may perhaps look forward to hearing the symphonies soon.