Copland: Sextet; Piano Quartet; Vitebsk; Two Pieces for String Quartet; Movement for String Quartet

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WORKS: Sextet; Piano Quartet; Vitebsk; Two Pieces for String Quartet; Movement for String Quartet
PERFORMER: Michael Collins (clarinet), Martin Roscoe (piano); Vanbrugh Quartet
Like Vitebsk, the 1928 piano trio subtitled ‘Study on a Jewish Theme’, the three other early scores on this release – the Two Pieces for String Quartet, otherwise available only in their 1928 string orchestra version, and the slender yet prescient string quartet Movement of 1923 – are clearly from the rootstock of inter-war modernism. The same vocabulary of major and minor thirds, compressed vertically and horizontally around the germinal interval of the semitone, is also the glue binding similar, striking music by Britten and others. And the emergence of the haunting Judaic tune in the Trio brings to mind no less powerful connotations of the Hebrew spirit in Bloch and, perhaps most strikingly, in the Piano Trio and Eighth Quartet of Shostakovich. Copland’s 1935 recording of Vitebsk, available on an anthology disc of his playing, is something of a benchmark in terms of the composer’s own typically economical style. The Göbel Trio of Berlin offers a weightier reading from 1988. However, paired with rare Copland, the more than serviceable account of Vitebsk by members of the Vanbrugh Quartet with pianist Martin Roscoe is a rare chance to collect a major tranche of the Copland oeuvre, and with it the 1950 Piano Quartet. Its craftsmanly art is a brave compromise between Copland’s mature style and serialism, and the deft textures and formal precision unmistakably bear the composer’s hallmark. It suffers only by comparison with the masterly Sextet, his 1937 arrangement of the Short Symphony of 1932, receiving a vibrant reading on this recording. Nicholas Williams