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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

William WALTON (1902 – 1983)
String Quartet (1922)
String Quartet in A minor (1947)
The Emperor Quartet
Recorded: Potton Hall, Suffolk, August 2000
BLACK BOX BBM 1035 [58:51]
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Walton’s String Quartet in A minor is a favourite of mine because it is a lovely work clearly representative of the composer’s sunny lyricism as well as of his lively sense of rhythm. It also happens to be one of the first Walton recordings I bought as a teenager (ARGO RG 329, Allegri String Quartet, 1963, nla). It has stayed with me since then. In the meantime it has been available in various couplings, be it in its original version or its arrangement for string orchestra as Sonata for Strings (arranged by the composer and Malcolm Arnold).

The main interest here is the early String Quartet of 1922 which has been shelved for many long years and unplayed for somewhat obscure reasons (are there really any such reasons?). The composer, too, may also have been responsible for the complete neglect in which this youthful work of his has long been held. Walton’s (First) String Quartet was performed during the 1923 ISCM festival in Salzburg (H.H. Stückenschmidt, Musique Nouvelle, Buchet-Chastel, Paris, 1956, page 209). This was quite an ambitious work by a young budding composer obviously flexing his muscles in modern writing, for this work is unlike anything else that Walton has ever written later. Indeed, Walton soon abandoned such expressionism; and, with Façade, nearly became the seventh member of Les Six. The (First) String Quartet is a fairly lengthy piece (the original was probably still longer, for the present performance observes several cuts apparently sanctioned by the composer) in three substantial movements packed with powerful, virile music bearing the impact of the Schönberg School. The first movement Moderato, the shortest of the three, might well be considered as a lengthy introduction to what is to follow: a long Scherzo and a longer fugal Finale. The first movement opens with a sinuous chromatic first subject winding its way through some dense contrapuntal textures. The music is tense and often restless, though with some contrasting calmer sections. After a climax, the music slowly unwinds and ends somewhat inconclusively. The ensuing Scherzo is a quite lengthy piece of music that, in spite of its vitality, is rather too long. The music often pauses in almost static sections interrupting the restless rhythmic flow of the opening material. To a certain extent, the Scherzo is more in the nature of a movement conceived as a Scherzo-with-slow movement (or the other way round!). As already mentioned, the fugal Finale is longer still (playing for more than twelve minutes). It opens as a slow fugue, but the music soon gains considerable impetus; but, again, the movement is rather too long for its material. Walton had then still to learn the virtues of concision.

The 1922 String Quartet is an ambitious, though flawed piece of music that is nevertheless an accomplished work of some substance in a rather advanced idiom (Berg might have been an influence). Had Walton decided to follow this path, he might well have become the first Schönberg follower in Britain. He decided otherwise, so that we have to be grateful that he left us this testimony of his early musical progress.

The Emperor Quartet prove themselves dedicated champions of the early quartet and obviously relish the fantasy and lyricism of the A minor Quartet of 1947. A superb release, and a must for all dedicated Waltonians anyway.

Hubert Culot

 


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String Quartet in A Minor

Allegro

Presto

Lento


Allegro molto

String Quartet

Moderato

Allegro molto vivace e ritmico

Fuga, Lento, ma non troppo, e molto espressivo


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