Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasy Piano Quartet.
Frith Pn Qrt
NIMBUS NI 6183 (65:38)
This disc offers an interesting program of chamber music that is outside the established repertoire. The Frith Piano Quartet is new to me, and with good reason, since I find no other recordings by it listed, despite the fact that it has been in existence since 2001. The
members, however, are all experienced chamber-music performers. Pianist Benjamin Frith is also a member of the Gould Piano Trio and has performed as a soloist with major orchestras. Violinist Robert Heard has played in the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble and in many of the best-known British orchestras. Violist Louise Williams played as a violinist in the Endellion Quartet and later as a violist in the Chilingirian Quartet and the Raphael Ensemble, and as a guest violist with many other well-known chamber groups. Cellist Richard Jenkinson performs in a duo with Benjamin Frith, is a member of the Innovation Chamber Ensemble, the Pro-Musica String Trio, and the Dante String Quartet, and has performed with several orchestras as a soloist and principal cellist.
William Walton’s Piano Quartet was written in 1918–19, when the composer was still a teenager. At least, that is what the notes to this recording state. Jerry Dubins, in his review of a performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (
31:5), writes that the work was begun in 1919 and completed in 1921. I do not know which dates are correct, but in any case the quartet is apparently one of Walton’s earliest surviving compositions. It nonetheless sounds quite accomplished, confident, and assertive. After a quiet and mysterious opening, the first movement alternates between lyrical or pastoral passages and vigorous, forceful statements before ending quietly as it began. With its slashing string figures and galloping rhythm, the Allegro scherzando second movement is arresting and exciting. The Andante tranquillo, the longest of the movements, is hushed and inward except for two brief spurts of agitation, reminding me a bit of the slow movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio and of some passages in Fauré’s chamber music. Slashing strings return in the final movement, along with a pounding rhythm, a contrapuntal development segment, and some jazz-like touches. This work makes a strong impression and is well worth hearing. The Frith performance is precisely executed, urgent, energetic, and seems excellent, although I haven’t heard the recording reviewed by Dubins, to which he gave his “highest recommendation.”
The Frank Bridge work offered here is in a peculiarly English form of Elizabethan origin, a “phantasy” (or “phantasie”), consisting of a single movement with several contrasting sections. Bridge also wrote a piano trio and a string quartet in this form, motivated by an annual prize offered for such compositions by Walter Wilson Cobbett, a wealthy businessman and amateur musician. Written in 1910, the Fantasy Piano Quartet is conservative in style, preserving the harmonic language of the late 19th century. The notes to this recording show only three tempo markings for this 12-minute work, but it appears that there are more variations within these sections. A forceful opening statement prefaces a brief, rather elegiac Andante con moto. There follows a lengthier Allegro vivace in scherzo form, initially sprightly but then increasingly angry, with a gentle, reflective middle section. This is succeeded by a return of the opening Andante with greater elaboration of its material, leading to a
conclusion. I find little to choose from between the Frith performance and the excellent one by the Maggini Quartet and pianist Martin Roscoe on Naxos. In the Frith performance there is a bit more tension in the string lines in the opening Andante, but the Maggini players are more vehement and incisive in the Allegro and favor stronger dynamic stresses. In general, the Maggini performance places more emphasis on contrast, the Frith on continuity.
Compared to Guillaume Lekeu (1870–94), who died of typhoid fever at age 24, Mozart and Schubert were long-lived. His career was further abbreviated by the fact that he began formal study of music late, at age 18, first under César Franck and then under Vincent d’Indy, but he still left behind a substantial body of work. The two-movement Piano Quartet is his final composition and was left unfinished at his death. The slow second movement was completed by d’Indy, who added half a dozen measures. Apparently one or two additional movements were intended. The turbulent and passionate first movement, labeled
Dans un emportement doulereux
(which I, although not the Frith booklet, translate as “in a sorrowful passion”), is apparently intended to represent the pain of lost love, while the second,
Lent et passionné
(“slow and impassioned”), depicts the love that is the source of that sorrow. The Frith players generate more passion, urgency, and sustained tension in this movement than the Eugène Ysaÿe Ensemble (Brilliant Classics) but do not quite match the tonal weight and richness of the fine recent recording by the Montreal-based Hochelaga Trio, with violist Teng Li (Atma). In the slow movement, the Frith performance is the most serene, drawn-out, and inward of the three renditions.
The sound quality of this release is good, with plenty of detail and impact, if a touch on the dry side. Although other good recordings of all three works are available, I can readily recommend this disc as a valuable addition to the chamber-music discography.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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