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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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Sir John Blackwood McEWEN (1868-1948)
String Quartet No. 8 in E flat major (Allegro piacevole; Larghetto; Allegretto) (1918) [14:13]
Dedicated to Philip L. Agnew
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (Allegro marcato - Presto - Tempo I; Andante quasi adagio - Poco più mosso; Vivace - Molto meno mosso - Vivace; Finale. Allegro vivace - Poco meno mosso). (1898) [29:27]
A Little Quartet 'in modo scotico', No. 15 (Allegro giocoso - Molto tranquillo e legato; Adagio piacevole molto tranquillo; Vivace. Reel time - Lento). (1936) [16.39]
To my friend R.C. Wyse
Chilingirian Quartet (Levon Chilingirian - Charles Sewart violins; Asdis Valdimarsdottir viola; Philip de Groote cello)
Rec. Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk, 3-5 May 2002. DDD
premiere recordings
CHANDOS CHAN 10182 [60.27]

McEwen, despite his squarely Victorian birthdate, evolved a style both invigorating, sweetly neo-romantic and continental. One can easily imagine the 1918 quartet played by the Bohemian Quartet. The music of this compact quarter hour triptych is in touch with Continental models such as the Smetana First Quartet, Max d’Ollonne’s quartet and the quartets of Karl Weigl; not that McEwen would have heard any of these apart from the Smetana. The hustling finale hints at a vigorous folk tune. The Second Quartet dates back twenty years to the time when he had just been appointed professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Academy of Music. The first movement is a richly woven canvas with evidence of folk influences (and pace contemporary critic’s notes) not especially Scottish. I thought more immediately of English folksong and this ‘voice’ returns in the marcato resolution violin solo at 1.42 (tr.5). A playful ripely skittering Vivace follows.

Twenty years on from the Eighth Quartet, and after a long therapeutic stay in the coastal village of Cap Ferret not far from Bordeaux, came the Fifteenth Quartet in modo scotico. This is rife with folksong voices all woven with streaming playfulness, bustle and musing reflection: part Ravel, part Dvořák and part Vaughan Williams. These tunes (e.g. 2.01, tr.8) would have spoken directly to Holst Williams. There are also moments here where the instrumental writing in Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge comes irresistibly to mind. McEwen seems to be cozying up to the ‘Coloured Counties’ rather than the heather and the thistle although the Scottish flavour of the touchingly delectable tune at tr. 9 3.32 is undeniable. The extraordinary convulsively clucking finale partakes of Grainger (Reel and Strathspey), Bartók, Kodály and Rózsa and in the last few pages has the tumultuous activity we find in John Foulds’ Quartetto Intimo (Pearl). Once heard never forgotten. While Eddie McGuire, Ronald Stevenson and Erik Chisholm were to take this Caledonian wildness a step further this is remarkable writing by anyone’s reckoning. Once again Chandos compel us to rewrite our histories and our assumptions. Another discovery. Let’s have all nineteen McEwen quartets Chandos.

Rob Barnett

Volume 1
John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) String Quartets Volume 1 - Quartet No. 16 'Quartette Provençale' (1936) - Quartet for Strings No.7 'Threnody' (1916) - Quartet No. 4 (1905) - Fantasia for String Quartet No. 17 (1947) Chilingirian Quartet - Recorded at Snape Maltings Concert Hall 19/20 February 2001; 9/10 November 2001 (No.4) CHANDOS CHAN 9926 [68.49] [JF]

This is an exciting opportunity to explore some of the string quartets by one of the great masters of the form. Each of these works can be regarded as a masterpiece. Each one deserves it place in the performing repertoire. … see Full Review

Volume 2
RECORDING OF THE MONTH John Blackwood MCEWEN (1868-1948) String Quartets Volume 2 String Quartet No. 3 (1901) String Quartet No. 6 Biscay (1913) String Quartet No. 13 (1928) Chilingirian Quartet Recorded Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 9-11 November 2001 CHANDOS CHAN 10084 [58.30] [JW]

...the Chilingirians really do bring life and joyous affirmation to this...... a most enthusiastic welcome...see Full Review

and also

McEWEN Violin Sonatas No. 2; No. 5 Sonata-Fantasia & No 6, Prince Charlie - A Scottish Fantasia Olivier Charlier (violin); Geoffrey Tozer (piano) rec 16/17 March 2000 Potton Hall, Suffolk CHANDOS CHAN 9880 [62:43] [JF]

It is dangerous for a reviewer to abuse superlatives - but this is a phenomenal disc. The playing is superb and the programme is revelatory.


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