Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Emma Parker violins Ann Beilby viola Nathaniel Boyd cello
Elizabeth Maconchy: String Quartet no 3
William Walton: String Quartet no 2 in A minor
Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet no 3 in F major op73
Between 1932 and 1984 Elizabeth Maconchy wrote 13 string quartets, attracted by the dialogue between the four voices. They were at the core of her composing life and span over fifty years of great change in British music. Britten was still almost unknown when she wrote her first; while her last appeared in the era of Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle. The Third Quartet was written in 1938 and, although the shortest of the set, is already far more than an ‘early work’. Its very succinctness is its strength ― powerfully concentrating moods and emotions to great effect.
Walton’s first attempt at a string quartet had been in 1922 and was, in the composer’s own (later) words “full of undigested Bartók and Schoenberg.” His second was very different. Planned before war broke out but not completed till 1947, the A minor Quartet marked a return to ‘serious’ composition after his very successful move into film scores during the war.
The work has incredible rhythmic energy and virtuosic instrumental writing ― and it’s notable for the central role it gives to the frequently neglected viola. Few British quartets can match it in the sheer beauty of the extensive first and third movements, while the precision and attack of the second and fourth provide exciting contrast.
Shostakovich came late to the string quartet – he’d already written nine symphonies when his Third Quartet was premiered in December 1946. Yet he caught up, and eventually wrote fifteen of each. The magnificent Third is one of his longest – five movements and on a symphonic scale. Shostakovich called it a ‘war quartet’. There’s violence and bitterness certainly but the centre of the work is a heartfelt and elegiac passacaglia fully conveying the tragedy of war. The final movement moves towards a more positive conclusion but ends with characteristic ambiguity ― as the composer put it in his alternative titling of the movements, “The eternal question: why? And for what?”
Formed in 2016, the Albion Quartet unites four outstanding young string players, brought together by a shared belief in the visceral power of the string quartet. They have been artists in residence at the Ryedale Festival and are currently central to the Two Moors Festival on Exmoor and Dartmoor, which takes place at almost exactly the same time as our own.
Passionate about musical education, the Quartet holds a residency at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, where they regularly give masterclasses and performances. As a Cavatina Chamber Music Trust ensemble, they also give frequent workshops at primary school level where they are thrilled to share the magic of chamber music with children from diverse backgrounds.
The members of the quartet play a fine collection of instruments, including a Stradivarius and Guarnerius.
“The playing, by the excellent Albion, is masterly in its vividness, freedom and sensitivity” David Cairns, Sunday Times
Tue 11 Oct 2022 8.00pm
Little Missenden Church
£25, £18, £10