Naxos Tippett series continues with the first of two discs
devoted to his five String Quartets. Like many other composers,
Tippett found himself drawn to the challenges of writing
effectively for the string quartet medium, and his cycle
spans most of his mature creative life. Andrew Burn’s useful
liner-note tells us that the composer found himself ‘invincibly
drawn to the quartet medium’ after hearing the Busch and
Lener Quartets in concert whilst still a student in the twenties.
There are unpublished attempts from this period, but the First
‘proper’ dates originally from 1934, being reworked
and finally premiered in its new form by the Zorian Quartet
in February 1944.
an engaging, thoroughly amiable work, full of touches that
identify the composer during this period. We still have a
firm key signature, and melodic and rhythmic ideas that surfaced
in other works. We also have Tippett’s fascination – bordering
on obsession – with Beethoven and his ideas on form and structure.
The first movement heading of allegro appassionato
one clue, as does the expanded sonata structure that Beethoven
experimented with. The slow movement is glorious, ardent
and serene, the composer himself describing it as ‘almost
unbroken lines of lyric song for all the instruments in harmony’.
The eponymously named Tippett Quartet certainly give it their
all here, melding rich tone and immaculate intonation. The
finale also recalls Beethoven in its fugal form, something
Tippett returned to a number of times.
Zorians were also responsible for the premiere of the Quartet
, this time if F sharp major and regarded by many
as one of the composers true masterpieces from this period
of early maturity. Beethoven once again looms large, with
Andrew Burn citing the Piano Sonata Op.101 as principal influence.
Soaring lyricism of a truly Tippettian nature is abundant
on the opening allegro
, and it’s the slow movement’s
dark fugal unwinding that recalls the German most readily.
The Tippetts clearly enjoy the buoyant rhythmic antics of
scherzo, and the rather serious-minded
finale, modelled on Beethoven’s Quartet Op.131, shows them
able to grasp structure but maintain impetus and excitement.
than work through chronologically, Naxos has opted to couple
these two early works with a much thornier work from the
late seventies, the Quartet No.4
. Key signatures have
now gone, and a more dissonant, consciously modernist musical
language is evident. It is contemporary with the Fourth Symphony
and Triple Concerto, and is in the one-movement form that
the composer saw as a metaphor for the life cycle of birth
to death. The tense, brooding opening seems to grow out of
tiny melodic ‘germs’, and though it is stark in overall mood,
there are flashes of light here and there in the form of
little ‘fanfares’ of the sort we often hear in the composer’s
work. Beethoven’s dotted rhythms, especially of the sort
found in the Grosse Fuge
, do feature throughout, and
Bartókian glissandos and harmonics punctuate the denser textured
passages. It’s not an easy work to perhaps appreciate on
first hearing, but it does reveal its rewards with repetition,
and the excellent Tippett Quartet play with passion and conviction,
even finding warmth in bleak closing moments.
are quite a few rivals to this Naxos issue in the record
catalogue, and I suppose the shadow of the Lindsay’s cycle
on ASV looms largest of all. They were the dedicatees of
the last two Quartets and worked with the composer directly
on the whole sequence. I haven’t sampled that set, and can
only say that with warm, immediate recording quality and
playing of tremendous power and persuasion, you will not
be disappointed if you plump for this new release.
see also review by John France