LABELS: Dutton Epoch
WORKS: String Sextet; Quintet for Flute & Strings; Quintet for Clarinet & Strings; String Quartets Nos 2, 8 & 9
PERFORMER: The Tippett Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7265
Stephen Dodgson’s octogenarian fluency is a happy phenomenon that has brought about his ongoing cycle of late string quartets – nine so far, all within the past 25 years – plus the other chamber music recorded here. The set cannily begins with some of the best material. The string sextet medium has been near-extinct after 19th-century highlights by Brahms, Dvorˇák and Schoenberg (Verklärte Nacht) – unsurprisingly perhaps, given the technique needed to keep six individual parts in the air at once. In Dodgson’s hands the problem hardly seems to exist, as the pairs of violins, violas and cellos first operate as self-contained units, then deftly start borrowing from each other: in Praeludium and Scherzo and Shadow the invention scintillates, falling off only a little in the final Chaconne.
The other outstanding work is the Second String Quartet, whose five, short, linked movements lead to a longer finale. Again, the musical role-playing is beautifully devised, with the first two movements featuring the cello, then the viola in sharp-focus dialogue with the other three instruments. The more tight-reined Eighth and Ninth Quartets, too, each contain a feast of unpretentious invention. Only the Flute and Clarinet Quintets lower the octane-level: as ever, the craftsmanship excels, but the character is less individual. Overall, the Tippetts show sustained excellence in faultless sound. Malcolm Hayes