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Bantock • Bax • HB Gardiner: Chamber Works

Tippett Quartet (Dutton Epoch)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
CDLX7389_Bax

Bantock • Bax • HB Gardiner
Bax: String Quartet in E; Bantock: In a Chinese Mirror; ET Davies: Eos Lais (The Nightingale); JD Davis: Summer’s Eve at Cookham Lock – Idyll, Op. 50; HB Gardiner: String Quartet in B flat
Tippett Quartet
Dutton Epoch CDLX7389 (CD/SACD)   79:48 mins

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Another joyous unearthing of British music from the Tippett Quartet. The most substantial work –at least, in terms of length – is Arnold Bax’s String Quartet in E, written when he was 20, an early fruit of his obsession with Ireland. Its middle movement, the only track that isn’t a premiere recording, was orchestrated to make his first tone poem, Cathleen-Ni-Houlihan. Of its outer movements the first is especially interesting: an exuberant, 14-minute piece that begins in Irish folk style in the vein of Dvořák’s American Quartet and morphs within five minutes into something like Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, premiered only the year before. You occasionally get the feeling that Bax was composing at the piano rather than with the sound of strings in his head – some of the wilder harmonic hurtlings in the finale sound a little chaotic, for all the Tippett Quartet’s skilful advocacy. But the work as a whole is a worthwhile discovery.

There’s more to enjoy in the smaller-scale pieces. Granville Bantock’s In a Chinese Mirror is a reworking of four songs with a depth of feeling that goes beyond travel-brochure chinoiserie. Henry Balfour Gardiner’s one-movement Quartet in B flat major is a stylistic collision of its time (1905), as if the ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ had been laid out on the set of Tristan und Isolde.

The most idiomatic string writing comes in the pieces by the least-known composers: in the soulful Summer’s Eve at Cookham Lockby the Birmingham composer John David Davis, and in Evan Thomas Davies’s hymn-like arrangement of the Welsh folk song ‘Eos Lais’.

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Erica Jeal