Quartet No.1, completed as early
as 1951 and probably one of his first
acknowledged pieces, is ambitious if
a trifle overlong, in which the young
composer is heard ‘flexing his muscles’.
It is in three weighty movements of
fairly equal length. The composer displays
considerable contrapuntal mastery, particularly
evident in the first movement Capriccioso
that perfectly lives up to its title;
a brilliant study in counterpoint, and
rather tense harmonically. The second
movement is an intense slow movement
with a nervous, rather violent central
section. The work ends with another
lengthy Allegro. This quartet is remarkably
assured, full of fine ideas (probably
too many), and by no means an apprentice
work. Curiously enough, it has never
been performed complete until this recording
was made. This is difficult to understand
because I cannot see anything wrong
with it; quite the contrary: this is
a really fine work.
The String Quartet
No.2 was written thirty years
later, and is of course a mature work.
The music seems to inhabit the same
tense harmonic world as, say, Frank
Bridge’s Third and Fourth String Quartets,
although it sometimes "sidesteps"
into some lighter mood; e.g. the dance-like
character of the second movement. The
third movement is a reverie of great
beauty; some of Schiffman’s finest music
to date. The Second Quartet ends with
a lively Allegro gioviale. This is a
compact work of substance that makes
one regret that Schiffman did not write
more for the medium.
The short Capriccio
was "originally intended as the
first movement of a larger work, but
[I] decided it was just what its present
title suggests, a caprice". (Incidentally,
the First String Quartet opens with
another Capriccio, although one of a
much larger scale.) It is a fine piece
and a highly effective encore to any
string quartet recital.
recorded under the composer’s supervision
are really very fine. They are warmly
recorded, a bit too closely for some
tastes; but they certainly met with
the composer’s approval. My sole regret
is the short playing time of this disc.
A pity that some other chamber work
by Schiffman were not included. Anyway,
these are really very fine contemporary,
if not modern string quartets that undoubtedly
repay repeated hearing.