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
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.