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Graham FITKIN (b.1963) Vent (1994) [8:58]
Eddie McGUIRE (b.1948) Celtic Knotwork (1990/94) [4:39]
Pierre Max DUBOIS (1930-1995) Quatuor (1964) [7:15]
Lenny SAYERS (b.1977) For Four (2001) [5:13]
Eddie McGUIRE (b.1948) Chinese Knotwork (2001) [6:57]
Alfred UHL (1909-1992) Divertimento (1942) [12:31]
Nicholas SIMPSON (b.1958) Mardale Changes (2005) [9:39]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Histoire du Tango (1986) [18:57]
Fell Clarinet Quartet (Colin Blamey, Helen Bywater, Marianne Rawles, Lenny Sayers)
rec. October 2007, Prestonkirk Church, East Lothian, Scotland. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD34065 [74:20]
Experience Classicsonline

Fitkin’s Vent opens this disc. It is an energetic piece, with punchy rhythms and varied textures. A tonal work, the strong rhythms and accents give a dramatic framework, and minimalist influences are clearly sensed. This makes for a breathtaking opening, with the Fell Quartet demonstrating slick ensemble playing and a wide dynamic range. The sound of four members of the clarinet family playing together is, in this context, an incredible one, with a tonal range from the soft, organ-like sounds of later in the work to the strident and confident opening.

We hear two works by Eddie McGuire, giving the disc its title. Celtic Knotwork is short and atmospheric; it also exists in a version for flutes. Building from silences, the phrases and individual instrumental lines intertwine to create new textures. Chinese Knotwork uses pentatonic scales to take the listener to the orient, with the four instrumental parts sharing equal importance and developing phrases and structures through trills and bubbling semiquaver passages. Both works are enjoyable textural studies, with a fresh approach to writing for this kind of ensemble. It works well and demonstrates understanding of the tonal qualities of the instruments.

Pierre Max Dubois’s Quatuor is a charming piece in four short movements, with a distinct circus feel and a clear Stravinskian influence. This performance captures the essence of the work well, and one senses that the players are enjoying the music. The slow movement has some beautifully expressive playing and wonderful contrasts of tone colour.

Lenny Sayers is a member of the quartet, and also the composer of the work, For Four, written for the ensemble in 2001. The haunting opening, with its twisting melodies and harmonies builds into a highly energetic rhythmic dance, a quirky waltz and a whirlwind adventure. Sayers is clearly an extremely talented musician, and this, for me, is the highlight of the disc. The ensemble gives a flawless performance of an excellent work.

The oldest piece on the disc, Alfred Uhl’s Divertimento was composed for the Vienna Philharmonic’s clarinet section in 1942. Unsurprisingly, it has a distinctly Germanic feel, and brings to mind a more light-hearted adaptation of Hindemith’s neo-classicism. This is a substantial and far-reaching work, which provides significant musical challenges for the performers. The Fell Quartet meets these head-on and delivers a fine and well considered performance.

Nicholas Simpson’s Mardale Changes opens gently, with repeated melodic phrases heard across the ensemble. Undergoing gradual transformations, the music is based on the sound of the bells of the sunken Mardale church.

The final work presented here is Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, more usually heard in its versions for flute or violin and guitar. Based on an arrangement for saxophone quartet, this is something of a quirky affair, which nevertheless works well.

This is an excellent debut CD, and one that is highly enjoyable. This young quartet has developed an interesting and varied programme of new music which is both accessible and well composed. The quality of the repertoire is matched by the quality of the playing. This is a group with a bright future.

Carla Rees




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