Alfred HILL (1869-1960)
String Quartet No. 10 in E-major (1935) [20:18]
String Quartet No. 11 (1935) [19:38]
Life Quintet for Piano and Strings with Eight Voices in the Finale (1912) [39:26]
The Dominion Quartet (Yury Gezentsvey, Rosemary Harris (violins); Donald Maurice (viola); David Chickering (cello)); Richard Mapp (piano); (Bryony Williams, Amelia Berry (sopranos); Linden Loader, Annabelle Cheetham (mezzos); Richard Greager, Chris Berentson (tenors); Daniel OíConnor, Keith Small, (basses))/Mark Dorrell (conductor)
rec. 15-16 December 2009, Adam Concert Room, Victoria University of Wellington (Quartets) and 30-31 May 2011, Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall (Quintet) DDD
NAXOS 8.572844 [79:40]
Alfred Hill was the first Australasian composer of prominence and during his long career produced hundreds of compositions as well as hundreds more arrangements, orchestrations and re-workings of earlier works. His seventeen string quartets are the core of his output and all of them are in process of being recorded by the estimable Dominion Quartet. This is volume 4 in the series.
Hill studied in Leipzig in the 1890ís and his compositional style is frequently described as 19th century German Romantic. Actually his quartets and other works demonstrate a variety of influences, although a certain Schumann/Brahms foundation is evident. The reader is directed to Rob Barnettís excellent article elsewhere on this site (see article) for more information.
The Quartet No. 10 is built entirely from a four-note motif. Hillís skill at thematic development and his experience as a quartet player are amply demonstrated. The first movement has a somewhat Elgarian wistfulness, occasionally descending to sentimentality, with the middle movements showing a contrapuntal skill not often credited to Hill and the last movement having some truly eloquent pages. The Quartet No. 11 is impressionistic in idiom and altogether more serious than its predecessor, although the two works were written in the same year. It has been recorded more than once before and is probably the best known of the quartets. The harmony is reminiscent of Delius, but the use of D-major tonality follows older procedures, though in an original way. The slow movement makes excellent use of the viola (no surprise to those who know the composerís fine Viola Concerto) and has a haunting ending. The third movement is somewhat folkish, but again pays tribute to Delius at the end.
The genesis and history of Hillís Piano Quintet would tend to distract from its musical qualities. The final chorale of the choral last movement originated as the last section of a large-scale Exhibition Ode for the opening of the Christchurch Exhibition in 1906. The three instrumental movements were written in 1912 and combined with a setting of a new text including a reduced version of the 1906 chorale. In 1933 some of the music, with different words, was used for an Empire Day broadcast in Sydney in the form of the cantata From the Southern Seas. Finally, the entire Quintet was modified as the Symphony No.2 (Joy of Life) during the Second World War. This was recorded by the South Australian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Patrick Thomas on a Festival LP SFC800/18. In addition, the Quintet has a program. As a chamber work it is very impressive, with a solemn introduction followed by an exuberant and somewhat polyphonic main section in the first movement (Life is Vigorous in Hillís program). The slow movement is an imaginative, if slightly over-doleful, funeral march with a central section (not really a trio) that is quite moving (Life is sorrowful, but not without hope). There is an energetic scherzo (Life as play), well-played by the Dominion Quartet and Richard Mapp, and the choral Gloria in Excelsis Deo. As vocal chamber music the finale is quite enjoyable, if not a musically convincing conclusion to the preceding three movements, but the final chorale doesnít fit with anything that has gone before it.
The Dominion Quartet was formed in 2006 to record works of New Zealand composers (Hill lived in both Australia and New Zealand). They have a lovely sound and a good ensemble, although occasionally show a tendency towards slower speeds than necessary. The recorded sound for the two quartets is rich, although a little too closely miked. The venue for the Quintet provides more problems with a sharp, brittle effect that is a definite distraction. I have not heard the first three volumes in this series (see reviews for volumes 1, 2, 3), but if only on the basis of this disc, I can highly recommend the series, both for committed playing and as first documentation of an important part of the quartet repertoire.
Imaginative, energetic, moving and well-played.