Alwyn: String Quartets Nos. 10-13 / Tippett Quartet

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Considering how well William Alwyn’s music has fared on disc, perhaps it’s surprising that his Tenth through Thirteenth string quartets from the 1930s have not been recorded until now. After all, Alwyn always wrote effectively and beautifully for the genre.

While the Tenth’s four movements depict a sea voyage, somehow programmatic elements like the first movement’s gently rocking ostinatos, the second movement’s scampering violin lines depicting birds in flight, and the finale’s stormy, angular tuttis never sound clichéd (sound clip). The Eleventh’s first movement opens with a terse yet enigmatic motto theme that eventually generates robust and animated counterpoint. The second movement’s obsessive repeated pattern and muted sonorities fuse delicacy and backbone, while the finale’s spacious rising and falling lines gradually build to an intense fortissimo.

The Twelfth is a one-movement fantasia that embraces more dissonant and freewheeling ideas, while the Thirteenth is harmonically and melodically more conservative, and lushly scored; notice, for example, the second movement’s blend of busy pizzicatos and whirling trills and the first movement’s frequent octave doublings and double stops.

In the case of recorded premieres such as these, critics tend to focus on the music more than the performances. However, one must credit the Tippett Quartet for giving vibrant and communicative voice to Alwyn’s wide expressive range and marvelous deployment of string textures among all four instruments, together with Somm’s warm, well blended engineering. Recommended.

– ClassicsToday (Jed Distler)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SOMMCD 0165

  • UPC: 748871016521

  • Label: SOMM Recordings

  • Composer: William Alwyn

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tippett String Quartet