Ralph Vaughan Williams String Quartets Nos 1 & 2,
Catalog: SOMMCD 0656
Format: COMPACT DISC
SOMM Recordings celebrates the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s birth with insightful, deeply felt accounts of his String Quartets Nos.1 and 2, coupled with Gustav Holst’s Phantasy Quartet, by the Tippett Quartet. This major release sheds new light on one of the enduring friendships of 20th-century British music, Vaughan Williams and Holst having first met at the Royal College of Music in 1895. Vaughan Williams’ early interest in chamber music was fired by lessons with Max Bruch and Maurice Ravel, which prompted his String Quartet No.1 in G minor in 1908, later revised in 1922. It reveals Vaughan Williams, as Robert Matthew-Walker’s authoritative booklet notes suggest, “at his subtlest and most varied: lively, intense and rhythmically delightful… Nothing quite like this had appeared in English chamber-music up to that time”. His last but one chamber work, the A minor String Quartet No.2 (dedicated to Jean Stewart, violist of the Menges Quartet who gave its premiere in October 1944) gives prominence to the viola. Colored by wartime experience, it is a work of “turbulence and angst… an unemotional contemplation of bleak vistas” that movingly gives way to consoling serenity. Holst’s attractive Phantasy Quartet from 1917, heard here in Roderick Swanston’s edition commissioned by the Tippett Quartet who gave its first performance on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, is based on four British folk-songs and offers “easy-going charm as well as much playfulness and warmth”. The release continues the Tippett Quartet’s championing of British chamber music on SOMM, most recently with Dedication which focused on Ruth Gipps’ clarinet-led music (SOMMCD 0641) and was “recommended” by Gramophone. Their coupling of string quartets by William Alwyn and Doreen Carwithen (SOMMCD 0194) merited a five-star BBC Music Magazine review and was praised by The Strad for its “radiant insight and affection… utterly captivating”.