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Walton: String Quartets / Doric String Quartet

Walton / Doric String Quartet
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10661   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sir William Walton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Doric String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTON String Quartets: No. 1; No. 2 Doric Str Qrt CHANDOS 10661 (62: 17)

Sir William Walton completed his Second String Quartet in 1947 but did not number it as such because he considered his earlier quartet to be an immature piece, “full of undigested Bartók and Schönberg.” By the late 1940s, Walton was beginning to find composition laborious. While his later years produced at least two scores of note (the Cello Concerto of 1956 and the Second Symphony of 1960), new work came slowly as the Read more composer grew increasingly fastidious. When Neville Marriner asked him for a new piece for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1970, Walton simply adapted his second string quartet (with some help from Malcolm Arnold), calling it Sonata for String Orchestra. Of the four movements, only the first was altered in any substantial way. The adaptation works perfectly well, but recordings suggest the music is best suited to its original medium, particularly in the highly individual slow movement, which features a quasi-oriental viola melody over pizzicato cello. The intimacy of the quartet medium reinforces the maturity of the writing, both in its simplicity and its textural polish. The composer’s personal touches are much in evidence throughout this work: the fast movements (the second and fourth) almost constitute an extended fantasia on the scherzo of the First Symphony of 1935, so similar is their rhythmic and structural profile.

In comparison to the pared-back nature of Walton’s later music, the early quartet presents a remarkable outflowing of ideas. It was begun while Walton was still a student, and the final movement to be completed (the Scherzo) was composed as he was working on a setting of Edith Sitwell’s poems that would bring him instant notoriety: Façade. The influence of Schoenberg and Bartók may be heard in this quartet, but to call that influence undigested is a self-deprecating exaggeration. This is a very fine piece of music. Contemporary influences are most evident in the tonality. Walton’s later harmonic modulations are often quicksilver but his music is clearly in a particular key, whereas in the first quartet a tonal center is not easy to divine. Nevertheless, this music is not as foreign to the composer’s later style as, say, the early symphonies by Stravinsky and Weill are to theirs. Walton’s instinct for tapping into the singing quality of string instruments permeates the early quartet, giving a foretaste of his great viola, violin, and cello concertos. The Scherzo likewise contains recognizably Waltonian syncopation and rhythmic attack. The most problematic and perhaps most immature movement is the extended fugal finale, an ambitious young composer’s reply to Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. After hearing a few performances, Walton revised this by cutting a reappearance of the opening slow section, losing four of the overlong movement’s 16 minutes.

The excellent new recording by the Doric Quartet restores the cuts, allowing us to hear the quartet in its original form. The composer’s revised version may be heard in a recording from 2001 by the Emperor Quartet on the Black Box label (which as of this writing remains available), also coupled with the later quartet. Both recordings are first-class; these two groups are equally alive to every change of color and mood, and they both point Walton’s rhythms with vigor and unanimity. Chandos gives the Dorics a richer sound and they are a fraction tighter in ensemble, but even so I am inclined to favor the Emperor Quartet, if only because Walton’s revised First Quartet is less inclined to outstay its welcome. The new release nevertheless showcases highly distinguished performers and is heartily recommended. Walton’s two quartets, pace his own opinion of the first, are substantial musical statements. They are certainly the equal of the quartets by Berkeley, Arnold, Rubbra, and other English composers that have recently appeared on disc.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 by Sir William Walton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Doric String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919-1922; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 7 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor by Sir William Walton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Doric String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945-1947; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 26 Minutes 8 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Exquisite Performanc November 9, 2019 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Sir William Walton composed 2 substantial string quartets, approximately 25 years separating their completion dates (1922 and 1947, respectively). The 35 minute long 1922 quartet was withdrawn and subsequently revised by the composer, who apparently considered it an immature work overstuffed with allusions to Bartok and Schoenberg. Exhibiting substantial dissonance and complex counterpoint, this quartet did not strike this listener as 'immature' at all, perhaps due above all to the heavy demands made on the listener to stay focused throughout the complex flow the work provides. In this recording, Britain's outstanding Doric String Quartet plays the original version, giving the listener a chance to judge whether or not Walton made the right choice to revise it. The 1947 quartet is a more tightly organized composition with a notably rhythmic intensity dominating the work's ebb and flow. Again, the Doric String Quartet plays this quartet with precision and elan, as in the earlier work. Chandos' technical audio qualities are top notch here, and the result is a program of very high quality (albeit challenging) chamber music. Definitely recommended for serious chamber music devotees." Report Abuse
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