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Ian WILSON (b. 1964)
Veer – String Quartet No.4 (2000) [9:25]
In fretta, in vento – String Quartet No.6 (2001) [13:32]
...wander, darkling – String Quartet No.5 (2000) [18:33]
Lyric Suite (2004) [18:40]
The Callino Quartet
rec. Cockaigne Hatley Church, Cambridgeshire, 7-8 May 2005

Belfast-born Ian Wilson, now in his mid-forties, already has a varied and substantial output to his credit. This includes two chamber operas, several concertos and orchestral works. The chamber pieces number eight string quartets, three string trios and three piano trios not to mention the vocal music.

Wilson’s works often bear a title suggesting some extra-musical inspiration although the music is never descriptive or programmatic. Examples include the concerto for organ and orchestra Rich Harbour (1994/5), the Third Piano Trio Catalan Tales (after Miró) of 1996 or the beautiful piece for flute and piano Spilliaert’s Beach (1999).

His String Quartet No.4 titled Veer is no exception, although the title – this time – does not tell us much. The insert notes mention that “the work’s title is not only a pun on the German for ‘four’, but an acknowledgement that after it he [Wilson] ‘veered’ away from the style of this piece and others like it”. I must, however, confess that I do not know Wilson’s music deeply enough to endorse this explanation. On the other hand, it is much more useful to know that the movements of the Fourth String Quartet are inspired by two paintings by Edvard Munch: the celebrated Scream and Melancholy. The grinding dissonance and anguish of the first movement is aptly offset by the almost expressionist elegiac character of the second panel.

Wilson made his home in Belgrade in 1998 but the NATO bombing campaign forced him to return to Ireland one year later. The three string quartets recorded here were written in quick succession after his return to Ireland. The String Quartet No.5 “...wander, darkling”, completed in 2000 undoubtedly reflects the impact of these frightful events, again without any attempt at the programmatic. In this work, and for fairly obvious reasons, Wilson enlarged his expressive palette by resorting to spectral techniques, which greatly add to the expressive strength of the music. This may not be as visceral in impact as, say, that of Penderecki’s celebrated Thrčne pour les victimes d’Hiroshima, but nevertheless effectively articulates an oppressive, ominous mood.

On the other hand, the String Quartet No.6 “In fretta, in vento” - the Italian title roughly translates as ‘hastily, in the air’ - “alludes to those victims of the World Trade Center attack who faced the terrible dilemma to throw themselves from the building or be burned alive”. Wilson’s grandmother, to whom the Sixth String Quartet is dedicated, died soon after the work’s completion. The elegiac, often sorrowful, at times other-worldly, character of much of the music must therefore come as no surprise. It movingly evokes a deep sense of loss.

The Lyric Suite, subtitled Seven Elegiac Pieces, was composed some time later on a commission from RTÉ Lyric FM. The seven short movements may be played separately or together. This work is a bit different from its predecessors, although the music clearly comes from the same pen. The music is on the whole more straightforward, with a greater emphasis on melody than in some of the other quartets recorded here, so that the music is again strongly expressive. The composer is also particularly successful in bringing variety to the music, so that the work’s movements may easily be listened to as a suite without any feeling of monotony.

These performances, recorded in the composer’s presence seem splendidly assured, fully committed and entirely convincing. This ensemble is new to me, but I certainly look forward to hearing more from them.

Wilson’s first three string quartets, played by the Vanbrugh Quartet, were – and hopefully still are – available on Black Box BBM 1031. This and the disc under review provide a fine introduction to Ian Wilson’s personal and strongly expressive sound-world.

Hubert Culot




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