British music for string trio

Author: 
Michael Oliver

British music for string trio

  • String Trio
  • Prelude and Fugue
  • Intermezzi
  • Fantasy-Quartet

A diverse mixture, but a pleasing one. The finest piece here is by the composer you might think least likely to write good chamber music. Gerald Finzi's Prelude and Fugue (it has been recorded before, by members of the Amphion Quartet on Hyperion A66109, 8/85) is a work of real eloquence and strength, written with masterly skill for this difficult medium. There are very few great string trios about (Hans Keller was fond of saying that you could play them all in a single concert), but Finzi's intense and earnest essay would not be embarrassed by conjunction with any of them. Nor would Berkeley's Trio be outfaced in such a concert. It is as elegantly resourceful as one would expect, and there is some of his characteristic wit in the rondo finale but the work is no mere divertimento. The mood of the first movement is set by a Shostakovich-like melody over a restless accompaniment that is virtually another subject in itself. There is lyrical contrast but no resolution; the music is tense and untranquil, and its undischarged expressive burden disturbs the slow movement also, both of whose soberly beautiful melodies carry considerable emotional weight.
The two short pieces by Parry seem to have been sketches for an abandoned String Trio, and sketches they remain, though if the work had been completed it would have been a fine one. Each consists of an exposition only, without development: the openings of a grave, almost Beethovenian cantabile slow movement and of an amiably relaxed, sauntering, Brahms-like finale. Moeran's Fantasy Quartet, finally, is an ingenious portmanteau: a sonata-allegro sufficiently ample to contain hints of slow movement and scherzo and more than a hint of a dance-finale. Its problem is that, despite what the sleeve-note accurately describes as a 'gaggle of second-subject ideas, so much of the piece derives from the lyrical, rather folksy first idea: it is a very pretty tune, and lends itself well to transformation but it comes back once or maybe twice too often.
The recording is rather close and makes one notice patches of breathy tone or moments of slightly imprecise intonation more than one would in a more generous perspective, but the performances have the measure of the music, and the anthology gives much pleasure.'

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