Rubbra: String Quartet No. 2; ‘String Quartet No. 4; Lyric Movement; Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn (O quando in cruce)

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COMPOSERS: Rubbra
LABELS: Dutton
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; ‘String Quartet No. 4; Lyric Movement; Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn (O quando in cruce)
PERFORMER: Dante Quartet; Michael Dussek (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7114
To those who are still cautious about Rubbra, this disc may be a pleasant surprise. Mean, carping souls like me who sometimes have trouble with Rubbra’s orchestral writing may end up regretting the fact that he wrote nearly three times as many symphonies as quartets – perhaps it should have been the other way round. While the Second Quartet shows Rubbra still adjusting his thinking to the quartet medium, the Fourth is a strong, sensuous, imaginatively fluid work, beautifully conceived for string quartet. Only in the final climax does one find him still striving for orchestral breadth and power. The early Lyric Movement is very likeable, if less original (parts of it could be Vaughan Williams or the young Herbert Howells); but the austere Meditation on a Byzantine Hymn is both more personal and more compelling, and it makes remarkably effective use of its two unaccompanied violas. Performances are generally fine, though the Dante Quartet sounds particularly at home in the Fourth Quartet, which it plays with sensitivity and sure feeling for the musical form. Recordings are clear, atmospheric, with a well-balanced sound picture, though I found the high violin tone a little hard in the Second Quartet. Stephen Johnson

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