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4x4 North-West
John REEMAN (b. 1946)

Scena [18:11]
Anthony GILBERT (b. 1934)

String Quartet No. 4 (2001) [20:54]
David ELLIS

String Quartet No. 3 (2002) [27:16]
Duncan DRUCE (b. 1939)

String Quartet No. 4 (2005) [11:44]
Manchester Camerata Ensemble (Reeman, Ellis, Druce); Tavec Quartet (Gilbert)
rec. St. Thomas Church, Stockport, 17 March 2005 (Reeman); Bollington Arts Centre, Cheshire, 29 March 2003 (Gilbert); Stockport Grammar School, 13 July 2004 (Ellis); Mellor Parish Church, Stockport, 17 July 2006 (Druce). DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2046 [78:55]



This is the third CD Campion has released in conjunction with the North West Composersí Association. It is dedicated to the string quartets of composers with a northern UK connection. The previous discs, "Fast Forward" and "Old City-New Image", featured works by John Casken, Kevin Malone, Geoffrey Poole, Robin Walker and Liverpool born John McCabe. Here the music includes the Third Quartet of David Ellis, whose years at BBC Manchester have been put to good use with Ellis fulfilling the role of the discís producer.

Completed in 2002, David Ellisís Third Quartet is a substantial work of nigh on half an hourís duration. Cast in two weighty outer movements framing a fleeting intermezzo, it is the opening Adagio sostenuto Ė Allegro molto that carries the thrust of the musical argument. The movement effectively combines the traditional function of an opening allegro with elements of a slow movement, the two differing types of material often battling for ultimate superiority. The predominantly pizzicato central movement, appropriately marked "semplice" paves the way for the finale. The raw material for that movement is largely drawn from the opening but subjected to a series of transformations often pervaded by a mood of resolute defiance. As with the composerís symphonies the result is a powerful work, vigorously argued and given a reading of equally impressive substance by the Manchester Camerata Ensemble.

John Reeman was something of a late starter as composer, pursuing various differing occupations before enrolling at Hull University where he ultimately achieved a Masterís degree in composition. His Scena was awarded first prize in the 2002 "In Memoriam Zoltán Kodály" International Composerís Competition and comprises a single movement that the composer describes as a "mini-drama". Each of the players initially assumes the part of an individual character before a gradual coming together as the protagonists unite. The ensuing vigorous central section sees the players interact collectively before the material once again breaks down into individual lines. Scena is an impressively constructed work in which the composer demonstrates a strong sense of developmental control over his material. Although the music rarely gravitates away from an underlying sense of tonality Reemanís approach to harmony and melodic line is never less than absorbing. Given that he is possibly the least known composer represented it is to be hoped that this recording will help to bring about a greater awareness of his work.

Anthony Gilbert on the other hand is a composer with a long established reputation; although there was a time when his fame in the field of teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music seemed to overshadow his considerable achievements as a composer. For many years very little of Gilbertís work could be heard on CD although fortunately NMC stepped in, releasing recordings of several works for wind band including Dream Carousels, as well as the violin concerto, On Beholding a Rainbow. Gilbertís own disarming description of his Fourth Quartet as "simply a 21 minute partita" belies what is a rigorously controlled and organised work of significant architectural complexity. Of all four works on the disc it is Gilbertís that represents the sternest challenge to the listener, yet as is often the case it is also the work that can yield the greatest rewards given repeated listening. Its four movements are starkly contrasting whilst the intensity shared by the first and third movements are offset by the pizzicato of the second and the relative abandon of the finale, which carries the wonderful direction to the performers to "play dirty".

Duncan Druceís String Quartet No. 4 is the only work of the four to carry any kind of programmatic element, drawing its inspiration, and to some degree structure, from Emily Brontëís immortal novel Wuthering Heights. The "fourteen vignettes" that make up the work paint a vivid and at times highly imaginative picture of the passages from the book that they represent. That said, the overall impression is understandably less cohesive than the other works on the disc. Nevertheless the work succeeds in drawing the listener in through the strength of its personality and atmosphere.

Indeed, it is personality that is possibly the key word in assessing this CD overall. The contrasting stylistic personas of the composers represented makes for interesting and enjoyable listening. All four works benefit from committed advocacy by the Manchester Camerata Ensemble and Tavec Quartet. Given that the work was written specifically for them it is especially fitting that the Tavec Quartet, made up of former students at the Royal Northern, perform the demanding Anthony Gilbert Fourth Quartet, with particular aplomb.

Christopher Thomas

 


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