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BRITISH STRING QUARTETS 2: Edward ELGAR- String Quartet; Francis ROUTH - Divertimento for String Quartet; Alan RAWSTHORNE - String Quartet no 3. Bochmann String Quartet Redcliffe Recordings RR 015 [56' 29'']



This enterprising disc from Redcliffe Recordings brings together three generations of British composers and their varied responses to the formidable challenge of writing for the medium of the string quartet.

The Elgar quartet (1918) is realised with much sensitivity to its ever-changing moods. The essentially symphonic scale of the outer movements is grasped by the players whilst the melancholic introspection of the central Piacevole movement never descends into mawkishness. The edge provided by long takes in the recording adds to an appropriately restless performance of what can seem a stodgy and impersonal work in less sympathetic and responsive hands.

Francis Routh is the guiding spirit behind Redcliffe Recordings and it is a pleasure to hear one of his own works on this CD. I hope we will hear more of this composer on future Redcliffe discs (especially his Piano Concerto and Symphony). The Divertimento was commissioned by the Bochmann Quartet and composed as recently as 1998. It is a tough but rewarding piece with a Stravinsky-like bite to its insistent rhythms (the spirit of The Rite of Spring is invoked in the first movement). Essentially an Introduction, Theme with 15 Variations and Coda, this work falls into the traditional three movement pattern since the variations are grouped into sections which correspond to first movement and scherzo, slow movement and finale. The intellectual rigour and metric diversity of the outer movements is offset by the inward-looking Adagio, cast in the form of a Lullaby. An impressive and well-crafted piece, clearly the well-honed product of a lifetime's composing, Francis Routh's Divertimento more than holds its own in such illustrious company on this CD. The work's complexities are not impenetrable and it elicits musicianship of a high order from the Bochmann Quartet.

The final work on the disc, Alan Rawsthorne's Third Quartet of 1964 is another complex creation whose rewards are not superficial and begin to emerge only on further exposure. Inhabiting the same craggy conceptual density of the Third Symphony written just before this chamber work, Rawsthorne's String Quartet no 3 makes an impressive conclusion to this most thoughtfully planned and persuasively played programme. The apotheosis of Rawsthorne's chamber works, this quartet displays all the many facets of its composer's style from the serenity of the central chaconne to the virtuosity of the concluding jig. The Bochmann Quartet point up the diversity of this material whilst providing a reading of architectural grip and formal logic.

The authoritative notes are provided by Francis Routh himself and John McCabe and help the first-time listener to penetrate the musical argument of these three challenging works. The playing throughout the disc is very fine and all three readings have the feel of live performances (an impression backed up by the fact that two of the pieces were recorded on sessions lasting only one day). Lovers of British music need not hesitate whilst others will find this CD the perfect starting point for an exploration of 20th Century quartet writing in this country.


Paul Conway


Paul Conway

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