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BRITISH STRING QUARTETS Vol 2. ELGAR Quartet in E minor Op 83. RAWSTHORNE Quartet No 3. ROUTH Divertimento for string quartet Op 66   Bochmann String Quartet   Redcliffe Recordings RR015

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Elgar began his String Quartet in 1918. The opening movement allegro moderato is typical of this composer. The music stops and starts and never flows coherently although I must say that the Bochmanns make a fine attempt to keep the music moving and, in this, they are to be congratulated above the other recordings I have. As with Schubert and Franck, Elgar does not develop his material but merely repeats it. The Bochmanns play it with the minimum of pomposity and nobilmentes. So well do they play it that the music sometimes does not sound like Elgar.

The sleeve notes state that Elgar was not naturally a chamber music composer. Well, that is open to debate. He certainly was useless in writing for the piano as seen in his piano pieces, the Violin Sonata, Op 82 and the Piano Quintet, Op 84. His orchestral music has many flaws and he had no gift for musical continuity and could not compose a quick movement in entirety. His music has always an attitude; it is never free or spontaneous.

In the slow movement of the Quartet the music meanders and wallows and often hints at something martial or ceremonial which style does not suit this genre.

The finale is marked allegro molto but it isn't ... and that is not the Bochmanns fault. Elgar could not write an allegro. He could not keep up the pace and momentum. Great composers like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven could.

Sometimes the intensity in the finale is oppressive ... but, again, this is not the performers fault. In common parlance, they are making the best of a bad job but it is, quite frankly, very tedious music.

The next item on the disc is in complete contrast. This is Francis Routh's splendid Divertimento which packs more excitement and interest into its first two minutes than Elgar does in 25!

The Divertimento is in three movements. The first is an introduction, theme and five variations; the second makes up variations 6 to 8 and the finale comprises variations 9 to 15 plus a coda.

There is so much to admire in this work. The opening andante moderato is full of interest, the four-note motif given out at the very beginning sets the scene for the material and, unlike Elgar, the music is developed and explored in fifteen variations but the harmonic, melodic and rhythm changes come about naturally. And yet there is no complicated exegesis. The music proceeds naturally without self-indulgence or self-importance. I think the vivace energico of the first movement could have been a little more lively but the Bochmanns excel in the slow movement, a perfect adagio reminiscent of a lullaby. The melodic interest is mainly left to the violins but the viola and cello accompaniment is beautifully integrated. The finale is an allegro molto which at its centre has the feel of an approaching, passing and disappearing march. The four-note theme returns at figure O and the final five bars are ravishingly beautiful.

It seems a pity to make any adverse comments on this fine piece which is so well played but I do think the quick tempi are a shade too slow.

The disc ends with one of Alan Rawsthorne's finest works, the Quartet No 3 in which the Bochmanns expertly capture the intensity without being claustrophobic. The 'woody' quality of Rawsthorne has not been caught better.


David Wright 



Full booklet notes available 

See also earlier review by Paul Conway

Rawsthorne Website on this server

Routh website on this server


David Wright 



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