ALBUM TITLE: Alwyn
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 10-13
PERFORMER: Tippett Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0165
The numbering here is deceptive: despite composing numerous earlier works in the string-quartet medium, the always self-critical Alwyn was 48 before, in 1953, he produced what he was prepared to designate his official No. 1. The four works here, numbered posthumously, were written between 1932 and 1936, in the composer’s usual taut and ultra-lucid manner (none lasts more than 20 minutes). Their individual voice and level of technical command make it hard to understand why Alwyn didn’t think any of them good enough for his own final seal of approval. There is no known evidence of No. 13 being performed at all in his lifetime.
No. 10 is a kind of four-movement Quartet-Suite, composed at sea on the Pacific Ocean, while Alwyn was on an epic antipodean tour of duty as a music examiner; the music’s consciously poetic manner compensates reasonably for its rather slight substance. The four-movement Quartet No. 11, written a year later, is more substantial and impressive, as is the two-movement No. 13. But the really striking creation here is the single-movement No. 12. Entitled Fantasia, this was dedicated to Alwyn’s politically radical colleague Alan Bush; the music has a turbulence and sweep not evident in its sibling works, plus the genuine feel of a major statement. It’s difficult to imagine finer performances than those delivered by the Tippett Quartet; the group’s fairly recent personnel changes have had no detracting effect at all on the group’s immaculate tonal blend and technical precision.