These three British composers were born within half a decade in
the years between 1949 and 1954. The disc’s title is a fetching
though not wholly appropriate one on which to peg the three quartets.
Best to listen to them without worrying about ‘Northernness’
or matters astronomical, though the last does play a part in the
John Casken wrote
his Second Quartet in 1993 and it was revised three years later.
It’s cast in four movements each one bearing an indication such
as ‘with piquant verve’ or ‘with haunted fascination’. I suppose
it’s up the interpreters to convey ‘piquancy’ with the requisite
relish. In fact the Kreutzer Quartet has been solidly coached
by the composer so are in a better position than most to transit
his wishes. The first movement oscillates between firefly vivacity
and a more mellow lyrical-expressive line. The second movement
is a scherzo of ‘jazzy obstinacy’ – make of that what you will
- whilst the third is a slow movement of considerable post-impressiontic
colour and reflective and refractive intimacy, one lit by little
flurries. Ravel-like pizzicati animate the finale, full of vibrancy,
but towards the end stronger, more personal intimations intrude
and the work ends in slight ambiguity.
was aware of Judith Weir’s 1990 Quartet from The Cold
Dancer - Contemporary String Quartets from Scotland on Delphian
DCD34038 where it was coupled with works by James Clapperton,
Kenneth Dempster and William Sweeney. It’s also on Genuin GEN86065
adventurously coupled with Elgar and Maxwell Davies, so it’s
something of a disc veteran by now. It pushes for what Weir
calls “on the string” lyricism. Each of the three movements
is based on a Spanish romance (first two) and a Scottish ballad
(for the finale). The writing has her accustomed grace and generosity
– in the central movement it also embraces earthier, vocalised
beauties of its own. It sounds very rewarding to play. My recollection
is that the Delphian performance was just a tad more austere
than the Kreutzer, and the latter group certainly enjoys the
folkloric second in particular where the rhythmic energy is
we have Songs, Dances and Ellipses by Robert Saxton,
written in 1997 and revised the following year. Once again,
as with the Casken, the composer supervised the recording session.
This work has five movements though moves sinuously in one span.
It opens in Mahlerian midst with tension increasing, moving
to a tempestuous but still austere second section, marked ‘light,
dancing’. The heart of the work is the long, ten-minute third
movement – a spacious stasis that grips and doesn’t let go.
There’s a scherzo-like incisiveness to the succeeding movement
and a driving then winding-down energy to the finale.
are some good, helpful notes and the sound quality in a church
that’s almost down my road (pure coincidence) is first class.
These recordings have been on the shelf for a long time; they
were recorded between 1999 and 2002. Well done to Metier for
giving them the oxygen of publicity.