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Albion Refracted

Piatti Quartet (Champs Hill Records)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Albion Refracted
Bridge: Three Idylls for String Quartet; Britten: Three Divertimenti for String Quartet; Phibbs: String Quartet No. 1; Turnage: Twisted Blues with Twisted Ballad
Piatti Quartet
Champs Hill Records CHRCD 145   71:22 mins

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From soothing pastorale to euphoric rock anthem, this excellent album traces an intriguing path through modern British works for quartet. The disc opens with Bridge’s Three Idylls (1906), best known for its second movement (as heard in Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge), and all performed with tenderness and nuance. Britten’s delightful Three Divertimenti (1933) follows, conceived as a series of ‘portraits’ of Britten’s friends, and the Piatti Quartet aptly capture this sense of affectionate camaraderie in a warm and colourful performance. A touch more flexibility and humour in the ‘Waltz’ would have been welcome, but the quartet bring wonderful fire to the closing ‘Burlesque’, and it is rewarding to hear a high-quality recording of this often-overlooked work.

Commissioned by the Piattis, Joseph Phibbs’s Quartet No. 1 (2014) takes inspiration from Haydn’s early five-movement quartets. Performed with beautiful poise, Phibbs’s tightly-structured work is deeply affecting in its clarity and restraint. Restraint is not a word that springs to mind about the opening of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s magnificent Twisted Blues with Twisted Ballad (2008). The composer had long wrestled with writing a string quartet, but eventually found himself freed up to compose one via the wild brilliance of Led Zeppelin. Taking two classic hits – ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – as his starting point, Turnage produced this tremendously dynamic, moving and colourful score. Each movement is a world of its own – from electric guitar tumult to heartfelt elegy – and the Piatti Quartet are on ferociously fine form in this thrilling conclusion to the disc.

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Kate Wakeling