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Alfred HILL (1869-1960)
String Quartets - Volume 2
String Quartet No. 4 in C minor (1916) [24:10]
String Quartet No. 6 in G major The Kids (1927)  [15:00]
String Quartet No. 8 in A major (1934) [25:37]
Dominion Quartet
rec. Expressions Theatre, Upper Hutt, New Zealand, June 2007 and April 2008 
NAXOS 8.572097 [65:00]


Experience Classicsonline


The second volume in Naxos’s edition of Alfred Hill’s string quartets gives us an even numbered trio of works where the first (see review) offered the opening salvo of the first three of them. The quartets recorded here come from three different decades. The earliest, the Fourth, was written slap bang in the middle of the First World War whilst the second came just before the Great Depression. No.8 dates from 1934, so that chronology has been replaced by a more discursive, selective approach.

As before I’ve not heard any rival recordings – though it would have been interesting to have heard the Australian Quartet in the Sixth (Marco Polo 8.223746) and before the Eleventh is released I’d like to hear them in that too, as Hill always said that this was his favourite from amongst his corpus of quartets.

So let’s get down to it. As we saw in the previous volume the post-Leipzig hangover lasted quite a time for Hill and I have to report that the same range of influences is strongly active in these works though as we move forward the importance of Debussy becomes more evident. The Fourth Quartet dates from 1916. Immediately one thinks of Dvořák and maybe very early Bridge – the Bridge who arranged lighter fare such as Londonderry Air for example and certainly not the later exploratory chamber composer. Slavic elements are present, as well as maybe a little Elgar in the slow movement, which is gravely lyric in Hill’s best style. The scherzo is engaging with a lilting B section and a strong drone running through, folkloric and Dvořákian once more. Hill sometimes evoked Schubert in these works – and there’s an element of that in the finale along with some generous lyricism and plenty of vitality. Incidentally the first two movements of the quartet were recycled by Hill for the first two movements of his Symphony in C minor known as ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’.

Quartet No.6 was probably composed in Sydney, in 1927. Its subtitle, The Kids, refers to his composition students at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music where he taught. It’s light and frothy, very much in the vein of an educative work, written for students and not too demanding at all. It adheres to classical principles but is at its best in the second movement which advances a fine chorale-like tune and some interesting opportunities for characterisation.  The third movement is the most harmonically up-to-date; elsewhere there’s a fugal, Haydn influenced finale.

Stronger challenges come in the Eighth Quartet. This is influenced by Debussy though there are still residual Dvořákian elements as well, even this relatively late in the compositional day. The scherzo is fleet, fast and furious and over in a flash. But the Debussian slow movement resolves to warmly lyric writing and is the centrepiece of the quartet.  The fusing of impressionist and pleine air moments is a marked feature of the writing.

The recording quality once again is excellent and the playing committed. There’s more to get one’s teeth into with this volume of the quartets though I am keenly awaiting as I noted earlier the volume containing a performance of No.11.

Jonathan Woolf


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