Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
String Quartet No. 2 (1950) [31:31]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
String Quartet RTvii/8 – Movement No.3; Late Swallows (1916-19) [9:32]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) arr. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1973)
Chacony in G minor Z730 [6:44]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1973)
String Quartet No 2 in C Major, Op 36 (1945) [30:12]
Barbirolli Quartet (Rakhi Singh (violin); Katie Stillman (violin); Ella Brinch (viola); Ashok Klouda (cello))
rec. 21, 22, 27 April 2011, Nimbus Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales
This is a well balanced programme of British works for string quartet. The Bliss and Britten quartets are joined by the latter’s realisation of Purcell’s Chacony and a single movement, the most popular, from Delius’s String Quartet. The Barbirolli Quartet lives up to its name in terms of commitment and expression.
Bliss’s Second Quartet was written for the Griller Quartet in 1950. A recording was made and is now on Dutton, and it’s highly recommended for its brilliance; the Griller proving just as good in Bliss as they are in Bloch. Nevertheless the mono sound can hardly be advanced as a plausible aural inducement today, and the Barbirolli now stand, along with the older Delmé on Hyperion [CDA66178], as ideal present-day representatives. The Delmé were perhaps more passionate, but the Barbirolli catch the work’s terseness and tension very well, as well as its hard-won lyricism. They pay particular attention to dynamic levels and this pays real dividends in the Sostenuto slow movement which is exceptionally well projected. Lithe rhythm animates the scherzo. They catch the elegiac quality that shrouds the opening Larghetto of the finale, a section to me that must be redolent and reflective of the War, as well as the lyrical interplay of the ensuing vibrant Allegro.
Britten’s own Second Quartet had been written five years earlier and it too shares wartime experiences. It was premiered by the Zorian Quartet, whose importance in British musical life of the time has yet fully to be realised. I hope one day it will be. The Barbirolli performs once more with acumen and tonal breadth and yet they don’t quite match the level of insight shown by the Maggini, whose eloquence in the British repertory is at present without peer [Naxos 8.553883]. Fine though the Chacony finale is in the Barbirolli’s hands, it strikes me as finer still in the Maggini’s. The Purcell-Britten is thus a perfect analogue to this finale and Delius’s Late Swallows movement makes its accustomed mark; it seldom goes wrong in sensitive hands.
Full marks for this attractive compilation even if I suggest other performances alongside. No complaints about the outstanding recording quality.
Jonathan Woolf
Full marks for this attractive compilation.