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LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3: Towards the Far Country; Winter’s Edge; The Capsizing Man and other stories
PERFORMER: Vanbrugh Quartet
Though for so long the medium par excellence of abstract musical discourse, the string quartet functions no less effectively than other genres as the vehicle for responses to external stimuli. Twentieth-century painting and sculpture act this way in the three quartets of the Irish composer Ian Wilson – intentionally so, as part of a dedicated artistic programme. In his First Quartet (1992), which he considers his first complete work, he moved consciously from an ‘abstract plane to a place where I could begin to musically explore the world and my own place in it’. Paradoxically, however, though entitled Winter’s Edge with reference to ideas of redemption as exemplified in the life of St Paul, its lack of overtly religious or autobiographical sensibility is fully amended by a firm basis in dedicated musical argument.


And this is no less true of the First Quartet’s successors, inspired by Giacometti and Klee respectively. Whatever its visual origins, Wilson’s invention translates into satisfying musical structures, broadly mosaic, and incidentally recalling Feldman in the Second (1994) and Tippett in the Third, Towards the Far Country (1996). More importantly, however, there is also here the outline of a third persona, still developing, and clearly bearing promise for the future. Nicholas Williams