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From Ocean’s Floor


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Alfred HILL (1869-1960)
String Quartets - Volume 3
String Quartet No.5 in E flat major The Allies (1920) [29:19]
String Quartet No.7 in A major (1934) [20:47]
String Quartet No.9 in A minor (1935) [23:21]
Dominion Quartet
rec. June 2007 (No.5), Expressions Theatre, Upper Hutt, December 2008 (Nos.7 and 9) Illott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall
NAXOS 8.572446 [73:53]


Experience Classicsonline

Volumes 1 (review) and 2 (review) of this series have set up expected stylistic parameters for Alfred Hill’s charming but backward-looking cycle of string quartets. If you enjoy Debussy, and Grieg, Dvorák and early Bridge, then these effusive works will have some appeal to your musical taste buds.
The Fifth Quartet, written in 1920, is a celebration in four movements of four of the winning side in the War – in order, France, America, Italy and Britain. France is ‘Artistic’ in the superscriptive title for the opening movement. Naturally Debussy is a strong influence in the unpretentiously fluent impressionistic writing. Nice preparation of the diminuendi from the Dominion Quartet who are, once again, our guides. The syncopated American Intermezzo has salon charms, so forget any thoughts of Ragtime or early jazz. The Italians are ‘Romantic’ though the writing sounds like laid-back early Bridge. The British finale is ‘Nautical’. It’s breezy and genial. I detect deft little hornpipes.
The Seventh Quartet followed much later, in 1934. It’s the end of mid-period Hill, the time-frame ushering in his last period. Even so it’s as similarly conventional as the earlier work. One admires the pizzicato start to the Allegretto with its arco contrast and the troll-like March ŕ la Grieg. Impressionism haunts the Andante, a concentrated late flowering example. The finale is actually the cleverest movement and it seems to me to be a whimsical and successful baroque update, although ending a touch incongruously in the circumstances with a Dvorákian flourish.
The Ninth followed the following year. Once again it’s cast in four conventional movements. There’s a slightly unusual and slow moving fugal section in the opening movement, but once again his lucid impressionism re-appears in the Andantino with its warmly textured and atmospheric contours. In truth Hill is sometimes stronger on atmospherics than distinctive thematic material but he can spin a jolly Scherzo, as he does here, with its engaging line for the first violin. The finale begins contemplatively, but soon embraces the Dvorák melos that is so constant a feature of his music-making.
The Australian Quartet recorded the Fifth, along with Nos. 6 and 11 for Marco Polo [8.223746] but I’ve not been able to audition the Fifth for points of comparison. The current performances are very enjoyable; sometimes ensemble is not wholly watertight but that’s no impediment to enjoying these engaging works.
Jonathan Woolf


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