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Alfred HILL (1869–1960)
String Quartets - Volume 6
String Quartet No. 15 in A minor (1937) [21:56]
String Quartet No. 16 in B flat major, Celtic (1938) [24:10]
String Quartet No. 17 in C major (1938) [18:13]
Dominion String Quartet (Yury Gezentsvey (violin I); Rosemary Harris (violin II); Donald Maurice (viola); David Chickering (cello))
rec. Park Road Post, Wellington, New Zealand, 5–6 May, 1 September 2014
Booklet notes included.
NAXOS 8.573416 [64:34]

The Dominion Quartet here completes its groundbreaking series of the seventeen string quartets of Alfred Hill. While Hill wrote over 2000 works in his long career the string quartets, spanning over forty years, perhaps best demonstrate the development of his individual style. In addition to their musical value, the quartets are eminently listenable and an important milestone in the development of Australian music.

While Hill could never have been called a modernist, his quartets did become more individual and experimental over time. He was a member of the Austral Quartet for a number of years and his quartets seem written “from the inside”. This adds to their intimate quality. The 15th Quartet, in spite of its late appearance in Hill’s output provides an excellent introduction to the various parts of his musical personality. The Adagio-Allegro shows Hill both serious, and for him, quite modern, yet ends in very warmhearted fashion - one of Hill’s most endearing traits. The second movement is far more intimate and rather folkish, this latter a tendency we will see more of in the 16th Quartet. The Serenade which follows is an arrangement of a slightly earlier string orchestra work and shows impressionist tendencies while the Finale returns to the seriousness of the first movement.

The 16th Quartet is subtitled Celtic and deals with folk material from both sides of the Irish Sea. The opening movement is in an almost Classical style but simultaneously seems like an Irish jig. The second movement is a haunting setting of the Irish folk song Shule Aura, co-written with Hill’s wife, the composer Mirrie Hill, and the third movement is a full-fledged Irish jig of great charm. In the finale we are in Scotland, at first humorously, but later with great poignancy. Perhaps at this point we should point out that many of Hill’s thirteen symphonies are actually orchestrations of his string quartets. The numbering for the symphonies is naturally different from that of the quartets although some of the titles remain. The String Quartet No. 16 became the Symphony No. 6 of 1956. Similarly the 17th Quartet became the Symphony No. 10 “Short” of 1958. For more information on this subject see Rob Barnett’s excellent article “Alfred Hill - Australian Golden Age Romantic”.

Hill’s last quartet is the most serious of the three on this disc. The opening movement shows Hill’s great understanding of quartet structure and instrumentation. At the same time it is quite youthful for a man of almost 70. The introduction of the middle movement continues the mood of the first before leading into the Serenade, originally an independent work. The Serenade, while effective in itself, seems a little out of place here. In the Finale Hill returns to the style of his early idol Dvorak, even to a short quotation from the New World Symphony, before a touching coda.

The Dominion Quartet plays with great vigour but with attention to detail at the same time. They have a good ensemble and produce a very intimate sound. This quality is abetted by the venue which adds to the overall warmth of feeling. Donald Maurice and David Chickering stand out, but the two violinists should not be forgotten. Obviously the Dominion Quartet members are very familiar with Hill’s idiom (see links below). They are to be commended for completing a historic series that greatly expands Hill’s presence on recordings and to have done so with such skill and commitment.

William Kreindler

Previous MusicWeb International reviews of the Alfred Hill String Quartets on Naxos
String Quartets Vol. 1, Naxos 8.570491 (Nos. 1-3)
String Quartets Vol. 2, Naxos 8.572097 (Nos. 4, 6, 8)
String Quartets Vol. 3, Naxos 8.572446 (Nos. 5, 7, 9)
String Quartets Vol. 4, Naxos 8.572844 (Nos. 10, 11, Quintet “Life”), also: review by William Kreindler
String Quartets Vol. 5, Naxos 8.573267 (Nos. 12-14)


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