This CD is an exciting pairing of important contrasting works by two
under-appreciated composers. Listening to the first of these I felt, on first
hearing, as I did when I first discove../graphics/red the chamber music of Franz Schmidt
- this quartet has an equally powerful intensity and flashes of a rare beauty
that makes me want to hear more. F../graphics/rederick May was born in Dublin in 1911.
His musical training with Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob was followed
by a period of study under Egon Wellesz (it would have been Berg had Berg
not died in 1935).
This combination of influences gives this particular example of Mays
work a unique blend of an innate native lyricism and a musical cosmopolitanism
that is totally free from any trace of the parochial while yet retaining
a down-to-earth stability. His only String Quartet dated 1936 is an early
work, written shortly after his return from Vienna, and clearly demonstrates
the effect his European studies had on his origins. It is a strong work,
dominated by the hegemony of semitonal movement yet illuminated by flashes
of lyricism that, if anything, recall Bax (whom, like Fleischmann, he must
The opening Allegro Inquieto sets the mood with its dramatic,
quasi-dodecaphonic gestures, and the contrasting lyricism of the second subject
theme. The portentous opening is relieved by a sunnier episode before an
agitated fugal development releases the intervallic tension with gradually
widening intervals. An appealing fragment of melody achieves prominence,
and recurs later in the work, before the return of the opening material in
an extended Coda. The first violin, escaping in lark-like trills
is abruptly brought down to earth in what the composer describes as representing
the enclosing darkness of Fate. Without a break the scherzo-like
Rhythmic gestures, in which the semitone remains prominent, prolong the dark
mood of the opening movement - with little respite in the central section
whose eerie harmonics and wide leaps were written as May learned of Bergs
death. The last movement Lento Espressivo (which could well stand
on its own and was the first to be written) begins reflectively with a
long-breathed fugal melody, its imitative phrases intertwining like the flow
of a river. The mood, with its almost folk-like touches, recalling his training
with Vaughan Williams, is serenely beautiful, but one of resignation rather
than of peace. A lovely tune, rather like Butterworths Loveliest
of Trees relieves the semitonal tension - and soon reveals its relationship
to the important lyrical melody of the first movement (though this might
perhaps be the other way around?) The Vanbrugh Quartet, resident in Cork,
here give a finely-wrought account of this fascinating music.
Aloys Fleischmann was born in Munich in 1910 but lived for many years in
Ireland as Professor of Music from the age of 24 at Cork University. His
Piano Quintet was written in 1938 and first performed by the Kutcher Quartet
with Fleischmanns mother Tilly (a pupil of Stavenhagen) as pianist.
The Quintet, a lighter work than the May quartet, contains some powerful
piano writing, here handled with magisterial assurance by the Irish-born
pianist Hugh Tinney. The angular octave leaps of the opening quickly develop
into a series of sectional mood-variations, the quasi-pastoral material hinting
at things Irish, yet distilled through classical origins, and treated with
considerable emotive power.
A gentle lyrical introduction on viola to the Andante Tranquillo second
movement is not however so peaceful as it at first appears. There is a dark
undercurrent of nostalgia that recalls, in the piano figuration, the mood
of such pieces as John Irelands second Trio, with its overtones of
war - and develops into a restlessly protesting impetuoso central passage.
The sombre mood returns and the movement ends in a kind of quiet resignation.
In complete contrast the brief scherzo opens briskly in a folk-like mood.
There is lots of melodic interest - a quasi-Irish violin melody, with much
Delian dotted triple rhythm. The movement gradually slows into the final
Allegro molto into which it bursts without a break. This has a driving
tarantella-like rhythm (also heard in the first movement) and here again
the opening octave figure of the work is prominent. A slower but dramatic
central section leads to a resumption of the opening rhythm, and a broad
modal theme in keyboard octaves ends the work.
This is a most convincing advocacy for both these compositions.