Brian BOYDELL (1917-2000)
The Complete String Quartets
String Quartet no. 1, op. 31 (1949) [23:15]
String Quartet no. 2, op. 44 (1957) [14:10]
String Quartet no. 3, op. 65 (1969) [18:14]
Adagio and Scherzo for String Quartet, op. 89 (1991) [8:49]
Carducci Quartet (Matthew Denton (violin); Michelle Fleming (violin); Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola); Emma Denton (cello)) rec. Highnam church, Gloucestershire, UK. 2008. DDD
The Carducci Quartet have a pretty adventurous pedigree witness their catalogue:-
Joseph Horovitz - Fantasia and Quartets The Carducci Quartet with Nicholas Daniel (oboe) Carducci Classics CSQ6482
Graham Whettam - Quartets The Carducci Quartet with Jennie-Lee Keetley (oboe): Carducci Classics CSQ5847
Philip Gates - A Garland for Gatsby Andrew Knights (oboe); Carducci Quartet; Philip Gates (piano) Melodist 3130CD
Philip Glass - String Quartets 1-4 Naxos 8.559636
They now extend their coverage to Brian Boydell. The music of this Irish composer is worth more than a passing audition. Fortunately a range of discs, modest in number, allows closer acquaintance. The 1954 Violin Concerto and In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi, Masai Mara and Megalithic Ritual Dances played by Maighread McCrann (violin) with Colman Pearce conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland are on Marco Polo 8.223887 (we could do with a review of this if anyone has a copy). Boydell studied at the RCM in London with Patrick Hadley and Herbert Howells (1938-45) then with John Larchet himself a gifted composer, in Dublin.
The Second Quartet was premiered in 1959. Its two movements sing through a delicate interlace of ecstatically pastoral material. Rather than his declared models of Bartók, Sibelius and Mahler it is Patrick Hadley I hear in this lovely work. The breathtaking quietude of the end of the first movement suggests some unspeakably beautiful vision only capable of articulation through music. The second movement is more spiky - almost jazzy.
The Third Quartet is in one longish movement. It was first aired by the RTE String Quartet in 1970. Neither of its predecessors evince avant-garde credentials. This however has a chilly and thorny essence on display. That said it is not without an infusion of lyrical succulence. Nowhere is Boydell as ‘extreme’ as Mátyás Seiber in his masterly Third Quartet "Lirico". Boydell's music seems benevolently caught between the poles represented by Berg's Lulu and Warlock's Curlew. The work ends in an echo of Beethovenian defiance.
Boydell’s First Quartet was premiered in Dublin in February 1952 by the Cirulli Quartet. It too has its Curlew moments but it is tougher than I had expected. The complexity of the textures has probably hampered its progress. However when these thin out, as in the pensive melancholy at the end of the first movement, things improve. The central Allegro Selvaggio is athletic radiating some ingratiatingly lyrical tendrils. The long final Allegro (Adagio) has vitality but there is a severity there too though it's most poetically rounded out in a manner that looks forward to the wonderful end of the first movement of the Second Quartet. Gareth Cox, who provides the liner-note, tells us that in this work Boydell began to leave behind the too obvious influences of RVW, Sibelius and Bartok. I certainly agree.
The Adagio and Scherzo was premiered by the work's dedicatees, the Degani Quartet on the occasion of the 1992 quatercentenary celebrations for Trinity College, Dublin. It was finished on time in 1991. It's another diptych this time from the latest chapter of the composer's career. That Bergian Curlew-despair throws deep shadows as well as intimations of a tender nocturnal beauty.

The urgent attention of admirers of Boydell's music and of twentieth century string quartets in general is drawn to this disc. Boydell creates a distinctive and very beautiful realm but is by no means facile of access.
Rob Barnett
A distinctive and very beautiful realm.