WORKS: String Quartet in E minor
PERFORMER: Bochmann String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: RR 015 (distr. Complete)
Is it possible to know too much about a composer’s life? Elgar’s late chamber works are often approached as ‘last thoughts’ – the creations of an artist whose era was coming to a close. All too soon, the bloody conclusion of the First World War and the death of his wife would bring the end of the composer’s glad, confident Edwardian morning, and – more or less – of his musical creativity. But there’s still plenty of passion, drama and energy in these works, not least in the String Quartet – as the Bochmann Quartet shows here. Perhaps there could be more wistful tenderness, perhaps the eerie quiet repetitions of the central slow movement could be more atmospheric, but it’s a view of Elgar that’s worth hearing, even if it isn’t the performance you’d ultimately want to live with.
The shade of Bartók, rather than Elgar, haunts the Routh and Rawsthorne quartets. Both are firmly crafted, but it’s Rawsthorne – prevailingly sombre and troubled – which leaves the more lasting impression. Recordings are a little muddy – not every detail is clearly audible – and the string sound has an edge in climaxes, but generally it’s acceptable. Stephen Johnson