WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 6 (Biscay) ; String Quartet No. 13
PERFORMER: Chilingirian Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10084
Like the previous CD in this projected complete run of the 19 McEwen quartets, the second volume contains works from various stages in the composer’s career. The Third dates from 1901, and it’s a pretty conventional sort of piece, apart from the lack of a slow movement, with echoes of Dvorák and even Borodin, as well as a definite Scottish lilt to some of the themes. Twelve years later, McEwen was living on the French coast, and the Sixth Quartet, subtitled Biscay, is more programmatic in intent and less four-square in rhythm. In the slow central movement in particular, there’s a vein of lyricism tinged by an impressionism of the sort that Vaughan Williams used in his London Symphony, a connection reinforced by the contours of the opening viola melody, as beautifully played by Asdis Valdimarsdottir as is Levon Chilingirian’s own soaring solo later.
But it is the 13th Quartet that is the most substantial achievement here, with its more chromatic harmony, freer contrapuntal interplay and greater concentration – not unlike the near-contemporary Third Quartet of Frank Bridge. The Snape Maltings recording is bright and detailed, and there’s only the odd imprecision from the players in what’s quite clearly a labour of enthusiasm and love. Martin Cotton