Walton: String Quartets

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Walton
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartets
PERFORMER: Doric Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10661

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Although released on the same label, this CD doesn’t replicate the Gabrieli Quartet’s fine 1991 recording of both works. The Doric Quartet plays Walton’s early String Quartet in a recently published version, restoring the cuts made by its composer at some point after its first two performances. Walton would distance himself from what he later described as an idiom ‘full of undigested Bartók and Schoenberg’.

Even so, the early Quartet is a remarkable creation, with its searching chromaticism, huge technical strength, and formidable finale (clearly taking up the challenge of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge). Walton then set about turning himself into the rather different composer who in 1947 completed the wonderful A minor Quartet – one of his finest achievements, adapting his trademark orchestral lyricism and virtuosity to the smaller medium with a wonderfully sure touch. The Doric Quartet play both works with an ultra-focused vividness that’s very effective in bringing out the early Quartet’s sophisticated, Schoenberg-influenced range of light and shade.

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The technical standard is huge, too: the A minor Quartet’s tricky rhythms are delivered with state-of-the-art precision, while the sustained weight of the early Quartet’s demands are met full-on. Much harder to take is the relentless, powerhouse drive which never lets much fresh air into the playing. After a while this in-your-face quality just becomes wearing. Whatever happened to the art of drawing the listener in? Malcolm Hayes