Saturday, 20 December 2008

William Alwyn: String Quartets

I first discovered the music of William Alwyn by way of his Symphonic Prelude: The Magic Island. The then new Lyrita LP was one of the featured albums on Record Review on Radio 3. I remember rushing into Cuthbertson’s music shop in Glasgow to try to buy it. Luckily, they had a copy and I quickly bought it and hurried round to a friend’s house to listen to it. And if I am honest, the work has remained my favourite piece of Alwyn ever since.
There were only the Lyrita recordings and a single Unicorn LP of his music available in those days and I soon managed to add them all to my collection. Christmas and birthdays certainly came in very handy.
It was some years later before I realised that Alywn wrote a great deal of chamber music. In fact, although there are only three numbered string quartets, many more were lost or suppressed when the composer decided to delete his juvenilia. His first essay in the form was back in 1920, when he was just fifteen years old. He wrote a String Quartet in G minor. Over the following fifteen years he composed a further twelve quartets and then the Irish Suite (1939-40).
In 1948 he wrote the Three Winter Poems. It is only the last named of these early works that has currency nowadays. It was not until 1953 that Alwyn completed the String Quartet in D minor that he allowed to become his Quartet No. 1. It would be another twenty or so years before the Second Quartet appeared and finally the third was written shortly before the composer died. In fact it was his last major work. Although it would be easy to define Alwyn’s career as a symphonist or as a film music composer it may be that it is actually the string quartet that provided the continuity through his career. In fact, the composer wrote that he was fascinated by this “most intimate of mediums” and endeavoured to “balance the four instruments with equally interesting material to produce a satisfying whole.” Even the most cursory of hearings of the three works on this CD will surely reveal that aspiration as having been successfully realised…

Track Listing:-
String Quartet No.1 in D minor (1953) String Quartet No.2 Spring Waters (1975) String Quartet No.3 (1984) Novelette: Allegro con brio (1938-39) Maggini Quartet NAXOS 8.570560
Please read my full review at MusicWeb International

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