Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Phantasy Quintet (1912) [15:24]
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor (1908) [29:23]
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor for Jean on her birthday (1943) [20:25]
Medici String Quartet (Paul Robertson (violin); David Matthews (violin); Ivo Jan van der Werff (viola); Anthony Lewis (cello))
Simon Rowland-Jones (viola)
rec. The Maltings, Snape, 21-23 February 1989
NIMBUS NI 5191 [65:12]
Three four-movement chamber works for strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
This CD was up against an identically-loaded Unicorn disc (Unicorn-Kanchana DKP(CD)9076) from the English Quartet when first issued. That fine disc was reissued on Alto (ALC1035) in more recent times. More recently and much more accessibly we have the same quintet and quartets from the Maggini Quartet who seemingly have set about recording every British string quartet. Their Naxos CD has been around for a decade and enjoys precisely the same coupling as this Nimbus disc.
The Phantasy Quintet falls between the two numbered quartets. Its four movements are heavy with the pastoral atmosphere and energy of The Lark Ascending and the Norfolk Rhapsodies. The First Quartet is the oldest work here It was written after the composer had spent three months studying privately with Ravel. Its atmosphere has taken on that impressionistic glistening patina that also characterises - with even greater mastery - On Wenlock Edge. It is not as perfectly resolved as the Housman song-cycle but the flavour is certainly there. The finale evinces all the unstemmable flow we associate with a powerful RVW allegro. The Second String Quartet – his last – is a product of wartime. Its first movement is strongly predictive of the Sixth Symphony and echoes Dona Nobis Pacem. For all that it was written for Jean Stewart, the violist of the Menges Quartet, as a birthday present, it is a tough work emotionally speaking. The second movement is heavy with an evocation of Tudor viols. The macabre scherzo is sinister and suffused with a minatory overcast shadow but the finale ends in a Tallis-like benediction - peaceful and calming. Also not be forgotten is the 2 CD set by the Music Group of London on EMI British Composers Series CDM565100-2. It includes several other examples of the composer’s chamber music.
The recording is searchingly close-up. The playing is admirable and carries a high emotional voltage. The Maggini are affecting but their playing is less hoarse and tremulous.

The capable notes are supplied by Nicholas Williams.

Rob Barnett
A popular grouping of RVW’s chamber works played with emotional fervour.