These were first
released on Koch International in 1993 where they saw good service.
Re-release at Naxos budget price will give them even wider currency.
These were always fine performances with recordings to match
and a decade on their place in the Sessions discography is unaltered.
The Quintet was
premiered by the Lennox Quartet in 1959 though the augmented
Grillers had performed the first two movements the previous
year. It’s reminiscent of the Schoenberg quartets, a powerful,
occasionally rather sickly work, with Sessions’ famously long
line reserved for the central adagio. Here the first violin
unfolds an evocative aria, with material harmonically advanced
but never dense. The cutting sabre of the first violin is again
a feature of the quintet’s finale, a forceful Schoenbergian
The much earlier
1938 Quartet is far less uningratiating work. In fact it shows
Session’s strongest features in the deliberate inspiration of
Beethoven’s Op.132 Quartet. Krenek referred to this work’s “long
breath of thematic developments” – and he was referring specifically
to the first movement, though it equally applies to the central
one as well. The key and tempo changes are invigorating, the
faster central panel of the opening movement being especially
breathless and exciting. That slow movement is expressive and
intense, whilst the finale is vibrant, slashing and energising.
There are delightful lines for the viola and for some rough
and tumble cellistic moments strong on rustic undertow. The
surging rhythm drives a freewheeling ending. One can understand
the popularity of the quartet in the same way that one appreciates
the respect in which the quintet is held – though for me the
quintet remains a remote and unlikeable work.
The brief Stravinsky
Canons is a cool two minute elegy. And the Six Pieces
for Cello, written for the composer’s cellist son, are brief
but never aphoristic. They make considerable demands on rhythmic
control but also extend a genuinely warm romance in the lulling
Berceuse, ending with an Adagio epilogue.
With expert performances
and reprised notes this is a self-recommending disc. Those unconvinced
by the quintet may yet revel in the quartet, a work well worth
getting to know – and at this price there’s no reason not to.