20th-Century British Chamber Works

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20th-Century British Chamber Works

  • Quartet for Piano and Strings
  • String Trio
  • Contrasts and Variants
  • Quartet for Piano and Strings
  • String Trio
  • Contrasts and Variants

I do not know how Capricci acquired their odd name; or do they mean that they actually enjoy playing? Anyway, whether they have that in mind or not, they certainly sound as if enjoyment is there; and so is skill, understanding, and just about every quality that goes to make good quartet-playing. The qualities include a feeling for balance, whether functioning as a string trio or as a piano quartet: at no point in the entire programme did I feel that anything at all was amiss in this direction, though such a feeling is normally all too obtrusive when listening to piano and strings in combination.
The programme illuminated by this splendid playing is a most rewarding one. The Lennox Berkeley Trio, sensibly separating the two quartets in a complete performance of the generous tape (some 70 minutes of music), is a minor masterpiece in which the grace and elegance characteristic of the composer find ideal expression in the gentle and persuasive sound of three solo strings. (It is odd that the medium is so often regarded as a poor relation of the quartet: it is no such thing, but an ideally balanced group in its own right.)
Preceding the Trio is the Walton Piano Quartet, an early work in which the later Walton (hindsight declares) is given a preview here and there (in the scherzo movement particularly). Yet the composer's ancestors are also elsewhere in evidence: Brahms, no less, included. And perhaps it is also the influence of Brahms which originally suggested the relentlessly over-written piano part. Nevertheless, this reading of the work provides an excellent alternative version to that of Roger Steptoe and the Dorian Ensemble on Phoenix.
Following the Trio is another piano quartet: the Contrasts and Variants of Kenneth Leighton. This is marvellously laid out, the constantly changing colours of piano and strings riveting the ear, initially perhaps at the expense of listening to the music itself. This is quite a large-scale piece in seven sections which contrast well with each other: the savage, the depressed, the lonely; and less often the cheerful. But always the riveting: I have not previously heard Leighton in quite this mood, and I wish I had come across the work earlier (it was written in 1972). It ought to rank highly among existing piano quartets—like string trios, a relatively neglected medium—and the wider distribution it should now receive, will, I hope, be reckoned by many listeners a new and very rewarding experience.
That it joins the other works in being given a splendid performance has already been said; that it joins the other works in being recorded in very good sound (of which good balance is by no means the only virtue) must now be added. A final very welcome plus point is that the Berkeley and Leighton, sharing a side, are separated by some 12 seconds, a very decent ration of silence.'

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