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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

Ian WILSON (b1964)
String Quartet No. 1 - Winter's Edge (1992)
String Quartet No. 2 - The Capsizing Man and other stories (1994)
String Quartet No. 3 - Towards the Far Country (1996)
The Vanbrugh Quartet
Recorded at University Concert Hall, Limerick, Ireland, 26th - 28th October 1999.
BLACK BOX BBM1031
[62.02]
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This is the celebrated Cork-based Vanbrugh Quartet's second recording of a work (Winter's Edge, part of a mixed programme on an early 90s Chandos disc) they commissioned from contemporary Irish composer Ian Wilson. Here they do absolute justice to the music and that of the second and third "art/artist influenced" quartets which followed it, within the context of Black Box's usual immaculate production and presentation values. That said, anyone familiar with the Black Box 20th century Irish series from, say, a disc like the highly listenable but fairly lightweight Silver Apples of the Moon may be in for a (slight) shock. We are certainly a long way from Hamilton Harty and E.J. Moeran here.

Despite being what I would describe as introspective and low-key music, there are considerable rewards here for the persistent and careful listener, and absolutely nothing at all to frighten anyone familiar with the equivalent works of Bartók or Shostakovich. Winter's Edge, the first quartet, takes its inspiration from the New Testament, with a specific reference to redemption, as personified in the life of Paul, with the title relating to a communication with his disciple Timothy. If this makes the thirteen and a half minute, single movement piece sound austere and spare then that is entirely appropriate and yet it is hardly unapproachable when viewed alongside a variety of offerings of similar vintage.

The second quartet is inspired by (named) works by sometime Futurist/Modernist/Existentialist Swiss sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti and is cast in four movements, lasting just over twenty minutes in total. There are some fairly bleak moments, e.g. in the "title track" The Capsizing Man, but also a fair modicum of material that may seem pretty familiar in the stylistic sense. The Forest revisits Bartók's "night music" very effectively, whereas The Chariot, hardly surprisingly, owes more to Stravinsky more than to Rózsa's Ben Hur!

Towards the Far Country, like the first quartet, is also a Vanbrugh commission, and takes as its parallel themes the paintings of Paul Klee (Maxwell Davies had also previously drunk at the same trough of inspiration) and a metaphysical journey. Again in a single movement, it is the longest piece recorded here. The composer's excellent booklet notes again illuminate the listener's appreciation of the music's germination but, like all the pieces on the disc, it is perfectly possible to enjoy it without any of this additional information. My impression was that this quartet does not necessarily constitute much of an advance on the composer's first two efforts in the genre. Like those it is also relatively abstract and anyone expecting a selection of variations based on Irish dance and folk tunes should really look elsewhere but I for one feel enhanced in my understanding of the contemporary Irish scene by listening to this disc. Much as I love Anuna, Michael O'Suillebhean etc., it has to be acknowledged that there is an equally valid school of Irish music out there that owes as much to Morton Feldman as it does to the Chieftains.

Neil Horner

Lengthy extracts from the 1st and 3rd quartet are provided

 

 



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The Capsizing Man and other stories-Str. Qt. No2


The Capsizing Man

The Forest

The Chariot

Seated Women (Interlude)

The Cat

Winter's Edge- String Quartet No1

Towards the Far Country-String Quartet No3


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