COMPOSERS: Erskine,Mackenzie,Wilson & Mcewen
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Scottish String Quartets
PERFORMER: Edinburgh Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84445
Anthologies like the Edinburgh Quartet’s collection of string quartets by Scottish composers from the 18th century to the 20th can risk being halfway houses between generalisation and more detailed portrayal. One might also ask whether ‘musica scotica’ surely now has sufficient prestige to justify more comprehensive appraisals of its art.
On the other hand, this long historical look at quartet-writing north of the border invites discovery of three distinguished yet previously unrecorded scores: by Alexander Mackenzie (1847-1935), by John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) and by Thomas Wilson (who died in June aged 73). A charmingly Classical Quartet in A, by Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kelly, adds good measure.
One can certainly relish the Scottish flavour in these pieces; and in the fleet Finale of Mackenzie’s Third Quartet, and in McEwen’s Biscay Quartet, such flavour is present in abundance. More telling, however, is the beauty of craftsmanship, revealed in Mackenzie’s serene slow movement, in the bracing opening of McEwen’s ‘Le phare’, and in the steely counterpoint of Wilson’s Fourth Quartet.
As it happens, both Mackenzie and McEwen were also outstanding principals of the Royal Academy of Music. The Edinburgh Quartet, now resident at Napier University, plays with passionate conviction throughout. Nicholas Williams