Britten: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 3; Three Divertimenti; Alla marcia

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 3; Three Divertimenti; Alla marcia
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9469
Britten’s interest in the string quartet medium spanned his entire career. This collection features the Divertimenti (1936) and the attractive Alla marcia (1933), as well as his final composition, the great Quartet No. 3 (1975-6). The Sorrel Quartet adopts a very slow tempo for the deeply felt final movement of the latter, and its boldness brings the reward of a special intensity. Such an achievement demands playing of the highest order, of course, and the performance is wholly at one with the vision of the music. The other movements are no less fine, the fast ‘Burlesque’, for instance, generating much excitement.

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Britten’s Quartet No. 1 (1941) was written during his brief stay in America, winning the Coolidge Medal for ‘eminent services to Chamber Music’. And rightly so, for this somewhat neglected work is both eloquent and imaginative in its treatment of the medium. The opening movement, with its extraordinary sound-world and strongly projected contrasts, reveals a composer of the highest rank. The Sorrel Quartet plays with complete assurance, and the extensive slow movement is beautifully done, with faithful attention to dynamics, so that the brief final Vivace becomes all the more exciting. The Chandos recording is ideally clear and truthful. Terry Barfoot