DELIUS; ELGAR String Quartets
Although it was well received at its November 1916 world premiere in London, Delius’s String Quartet was promptly revised by the composer, who added a scherzo to its original three-movement scheme. Now the musicologist Daniel Grimley has fashioned performing versions of the opening Allegro moderato and slow movement (subtitled ‘Late Swallows’) in their initial guise. The latter is especially fascinating, its outer sections containing wholly different material, and whose poignant central portion here harks back more strongly than ever to that utterly magical episode at the heart of Delius’s exquisite 1908 tone poem In a Summer Garden. Ripely captured by the microphones, the Villiers Quartet are on dedicated form and their reading of the work as we know it today is likewise a laudable one, if without quite the recreative spark, immaculate coordination and sheer authority of those distinguished versions from the Fitzwilliam Quartet (originally made for Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre and reissued on Australian Eloquence) or the Britten Quartet (Warner British Composers).
There’s tough competition, too, in the Elgar, not least from the Goldner Quartet, whose gloriously trenchant and sublimely assured performance on Hyperion was my own personal ‘Critics’ Choice’ for 2011. Tension levels on this likeable newcomer aren’t always as high as they might be (the Australian ensemble’s giddily combustible ardour in the finale thrills to the marrow every time), and I’m not sure these players manage to extract every ounce of expressive fibre or wistful poetry from the elusive Andante piacevole centrepiece. Ultimately, I do crave greater passion and pain in this music than the undoubtedly watchful Villiers choose to find. Still, if you fancy the coupling, there’s no real need to hold back; and of course for Delius diehards (and I include myself among them!) the disc will be essential listening for the two extra completions alone.