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Usk Recordings

Timothy SALTER (b.1942)
Piano Quartet (2006) [15:29]
Ensemble na Mara
rec. Norden Farm, Maidenhead, Berkshire, August 2007  
USK 1228CDS [15:29]
Experience Classicsonline

This is slightly unusual territory for me, a classical CD single. It contains a solitary work, Timothy Salter’s Piano Quartet written in 2006 and played by the Ensemble na Mara in August of the following year. Usk is Salter’s own label devoted to recording new work, a laudable aim. He has put out similar discs before – another such has been reviewed on this site, which was dedicated to Salter’s After the Sun, for baritone, oboe (doubling cor anglais) and piano.

I won’t reprise the detail of Salter’s musical life, which has been soundly recorded in Christopher Thomas’s review, but will note the composer’s admission that the greatest challenge of a Piano Quartet is to blend the three string instruments successfully with the piano as one blends the string instruments with a piano in a Piano Quartet. Or, he asks - and tends to answer in the affirmative - is this medium more akin to a Piano Trio in this respect.

His own Piano Quartet is cast in three movements, marked Vigorous, Fluid and finally With nervous energy. The first movement opens perhaps a little influenced by Shostakovich – there is certainly a sense of motoric dynamism – before becoming absorbed in an almost crepuscular mood that hints at Bartók in its pizzicati and reflective reveries. Sonorities and textures remain clear and notably well balanced.

The central movement opens with spectral harmonics, a questing piano response giving way to more precise chording against the eeriness of the strings, as the piano takes the leading voice. String tremolandi add colour, the violin and cello sounding rich as they take voicings against the piano’s strenuously fluid – the movement designation is apt – and particular line. When the piano becomes more static the strings embark on a pizzicato episode, and the mood darkens, glimmers in the gloaming. The cello forages in its lower reaches, the pizzicatos become more laden.

This prepares one for the tensile finale with its taut melodic morsels and deft piano chording laced with string line musings. The ‘second subject’ offers fine contrastive material before the opening brisk, quivering figures return for a scurry and scarper close.

This is a fine work. It satisfies its composer’s intentions in respect of fluidity and balance, it manages to integrate and characterise with imagination, and it keeps auditory interest going unflaggingly to the end. Congratulations to the Ensemble na Mara as well, who commissioned it, and to the RVW Trust that made funds available.

Jonathan Woolf


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