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Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


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Alfred HILL (1869-1960)
String Quartets Vol. 4
String Quartet no.10 in E (1935) [10:18]
String Quartet no.11 in D minor (1935) [19:38]
'Life' Quintet, for piano and strings, with (final movement) 8 voices (1912) [39:26]
Dominion Quartet; *Richard Mapp (piano); *vocal octet: Bryony Williams, Amelia Berry (sopranos); Linden Loader, Annabelle Cheetham (mezzos); Richard Greager, Chris Berentson (tenors); Daniel O'Connor, Keith Small (basses)/*Mark Dorrell (conductor)
rec. Adam Concert Room, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 15-16 December 2009; Wellington Town Hall, 30-31 May 2011 (Quintet). DDD
NAXOS 8.572844 [79:40]

Experience Classicsonline

Some may recall Australian composer Alfred Hill from the series of recordings of his symphonies, released in slow-motion by Marco Polo on three CDs between 1985 and 1999, more or less the public's first proper exposure to his music in the northern hemisphere. There was also one volume of string quartets, played by the Australian Quartet and including the Eleventh in D minor (8.223746). Unfortunately neither series went further. A super-review of all four discs can be read here. Marco Polo is now almost completed subsumed into the Naxos label stable, but Naxos have evidently decided it was time for a fresh series, of the Quartets at least. This is, then, not a re-release, but a new recording. Volume 3 was reviewed here, volume 2 here and volume 1 here; all starred the Dominion Quartet, and all have been warmly received on the whole.
The first three releases were straight all-quartet programmes. This latest disc presents not just Hill's stylistically differentiated but similarly concise Tenth and Eleventh Quartets, but to fill up what would otherwise have been a lot of empty space, his so-called 'Life' Quintet, written for string quartet and piano, but also featuring eight voices in the final movement, singing Hill's own song, 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo - a Paean for the Joy of Life'. If that sounds peculiar, it is: though the music in the three purely instrumental movements is terrific, the Beethoven-meets-Sullivan finale is likely to leave some at least wishing Hill had left it as an optional add-on. The English and Latin text is sincere but hackneyed, tending towards the twee, likely reminding listeners of the excessively avuncular picture of Hill on the CD cover, and some of the singing takes place inexplicably 'off-stage'. The Gloria's case is not served, it should be said, by ensemble and individual singing which, though unequivocally enthusiastic, is not always of the highest quality. According to the notes, Hill ultimately reworked the Quintet into a Joy of Life Symphony, perhaps finding that its cantata-like finale sounded more at home with an orchestra behind it - yet it is not entirely ineffective as it stands, at least for those who like a bit of Victoriana.
Hill's Quartets are often deeply conservative, recalling, sometimes quite vividly, Beethoven, Dvor(ák and Tchaikovsky - and that is certainly true of the retrospective Tenth Quartet. In the Eleventh, on the other hand, the soundworld is more modern, with more of the rich, exotic tonality of Strauss or early Shostakovich making its presence felt. Nonetheless, both Quartets are almost anachronistically late-Romantic, and given also the fact that they are mellifluous, beautifully crafted and basically wistful in character, likely therefore to appeal to the widest of audiences.
In the Quartets, sound quality is balanced and natural. The Quintet was recorded at a later date and at a different, less welcoming venue, and the strings are slightly recessed and rather parched. The booklet is fairly detailed and includes the text, for what it is worth, of Hill's 'Gloria'.
The Dominion Quartet was formed in 2006 to record works by New Zealand composers. Hill, as an honorary Kiwi, is done proud by their spirited and thoughtful espousal. For them and Naxos, six quartets remain from Hill's large and impressive output. No more quintets with eight voices in the finale, however.
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