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LABELS: Dutton Epoch
WORKS: Cello Sonata in C minor; Three Songs; Piano Quintet; Three Northumbrian Folksongs
PERFORMER: Camilli String Quartet; Rachel Ann Morgan (mezzo-soprano), Nancy Braithwaite (clarinet), Frank Mol (piano)
If it weren’t for the Piano Quintet, I’d probably have written off Margot Wright as a talented minor English pastoral Romantic who never lived up to her early promise – or something equally glib. But the Quintet turns out to be a work of real substance. The sombre, tense beginning, growing steadily above a repeated bass figure, raises expectations far higher than do the preceding songs and instrumental works, and although what follows isn’t consistently on such a high level, the imagination keeps on sparking – in the teasing rhythmic games of the first movement, or in the gorgeous string polyphony which blossoms unexpectedly from the finale’s modal viola theme. This is a remarkable achievement for a composer just turning 20 – as precocious in its subtly different way as the Piano Quartet by the 23-year-old Herbert Howells. Frank Mol and the Camilli Quartet give it the performance it deserves. Generally the recorded sound is good, if a trifle close to the players. But for some bizarre reason the first phrase of the solo clarinet Improvisation has been duplicated and grafted onto the end of the previous track: Wright’s setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’. Did nobody notice during playback? Stephen Johnson