WORKS: String Quartet in F, Op. 50/5, Tuireadh, String Quartet in A minor, D804 (Rosamunde)
PERFORMER: James Campbell (clarinet); Allegri Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: NAIMCD 067
No complaints about predictable juxtapositions here, with Haydn and Schubert framing music by James MacMillan for the first time on disc. Tuireadh (Gaelic for ‘lament’) was MacMillan’s tribute to the victims of the Piper Alpha oil rig tragedy, a moving threnody built on keening motifs drawn from traditional Scottish laments, now stifled, now eerily calm, now erupting in violent anguish. At times the clarinet seems to evoke shrieking gulls; and near the end what sounds like a broken snatch of nursery rhyme provokes a lacerating, almost hysterical climax. James Campbell and the Allegri, who premiered the work at the 1991 St Magnus Festival, give a performance it would be hard to imagine bettered for its mingled control, colouristic imagination and grieving intensity.
I wish the Allegri had dared more with colour and dynamics in the Haydn and Schubert quartets. Both are likeable performances, robust and bracing in the fast movements of the Haydn and with an eloquent singing line in the Schubert. But I missed a sense of improvisatory fantasy in the Poco adagio of the Haydn, while the leader is surely too apologetic in the portamentos that give the finale’s main theme its special character. In the Schubert, particularly, there is minimal difference between piano and pianissimo; and too often the Allegri underplays crucial accents – say, at the start of Schubert’s minuet (where is that sudden stab on the cello’s sustained low E?) or in the opening theme of the finale.
Allegri and/or MacMillan fans need not hold back, though if your prime interests are the Schubert and Haydn there are more illuminating performances to be had elsewhere, not least from The Lindsays (ASV), the Belcea (EMI) or the Mosaïques (Astrée) in the Schubert, and from the Angeles (Philips) and the Aeolian (Decca) in their complete Haydn cycles. Richard Wigmore