Hugh Wood – String Quartets 1 & 2,

The Rider Victory, The Horses
Dartington String Quartet, April Cantelo & Paul Hamburger

Label: Lyrita
Copyright: 2009 Wyastone Estate Limited.
Catalogue number: SRCD.304
UPC/EAN: 5020926030429
Format: CD
Analogue / Digital recording: ADD
Number of discs: 2
Total playing time: 2 hours 3 mins
Price: £ 14.99 (+ postage & packing)

Hugh Wood's first two string quartets are compact. The second is in a single movement. The first is a vivid essay in Schoenbergian tension, scampering expansions and sinister urgency. The Second is even more extreme in its avant-garde embrace. Mordant attack and sudden pizzicato expostulations blaze their way through this work without strangling opportunities for eerie asides, shuddering revelation and moments of strained lyricism. There are three other Wood quartets (1978, 1993, 2001). April Cantelo cannot be excelled in these songs. The witty way she points the words 'and tilted hind hooves' is matched by the bursting rhetorical conflagration and blast of the Pennines in April. These three songs are from Ted Hughes’ early collections The Hawk in the Rain and Lupercal. These are not conventional settings - this is after all Hugh Wood - but it is difficult to imagine them set to other music. The ringing operatic confidence of Wood’s Muir songs could hardly be projected with more volatile assurance than they receive from Paul Hamburger and April Cantelo. For an exemplary listening experience try The Bird which: an explosion of admiration veering over the precipice into ecstasy.

The second disc starts with two works by Rainier. Here we are recognisably in the same realm as Wood's Second Quartet - just a little further North. Intriguingly, though, Quanta does not deny the singing core of the oboe. One thinks in this work of Crosse's Ariadne and even of Malcolm Arnold's Oboe Concerto although the carapace is dissonant. Much the same can be said of the usually sterner format of the String Trio which ends with magical held-notes, arresting time. We then arrive at four cello and piano works. The Berkeley Duo represents a return to tonality even if a full engagement is constrained by Berkeley's natural reserve. The Fricker sonata in three movements and was written at Walton's home in Ischia. Walton is the dedicatee. It is a work of turbulent severity, exciting in the first and riptide third movements and otherwise statuesque in the manner of Hughes' Horses and lyrically expressive. Ten years after the Fricker comes Aberdonian, Martin Dalby's Variations. These are angular in the manner of Wood and Rainier. McCabe's Partita is stern and grave. It is again in the idiom of the times - the mid-1960s - yet with some lyrical 'give' as at 4:50.

The recording of the cello and piano works is excellent and compares favourably with the Rainier in terms of background ‘burble’.

The words of the sung poems are printed in the booklet. Overall a fascinating collection bound to stir memories or impressions from first time discovery but a satisfying listening experience even if you are encountering these iconic recordings for the first time.

Rob Barnett