STILL String Quartets Nos 1 - 4
The four string quartets by Robert Still (1910 71) chart a fascinating stylistic journey. Premiered in 1948 (and not heard again for fully 66 years), the First Quartet proves an amiable discovery, clean-cut and classical in demeanour. Neither it nor its (undated) successor outstay their welcome; indeed, the latter evinces a lucidity, poise and outdoor, folksy charm that are immediately endearing. During the early 1960s Still received informal lessons from no less an authority than Hans Keller. According to Edward Clark (who supplies annotation), both remaining quartets post-date this period: enviably cogent, deeply felt and discerningly laid out for the medium, their markedly more progressive idiom will come as no surprise to those already familiar with Still’s imposing one-movement Fourth Symphony from 1964 (coupled with his Third from 1960 and Humphrey Searle’s excitingly taut Second on an unmissable Lyrita reissue – 11/09). Listening to these absorbing canvases one can’t help but wonder what further riches this by all accounts rather self-effacing figure might have left us had he not suffered that fatal heart attack aged only 60.
No praise can be too high for these sublimely articulate and concentrated readings by the Villiers Quartet, for whose leader, James Dickenson, the whole project was very much a labour of love. Admirable sound and balance, too.