Samples & Downloads
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
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).
NAXOS 8.572844 [79:40]
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.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk