BRIAN BOYDELL – String Quartet No. 1

Irish composer Brian Boydell [1917-2000] wrote three string quartets. They each evoke a unique soundscape. To me, they are reminiscent of Welshman Daniel Jones (reviewed August 2016).

I am going to discuss the first quartet, written in 1949, which is in three movements.

The first movement, marked larghetto opens with a short solo cello statement. A violin enters in the background and the first violin comes in over the top; all of this in a minor key. This is the kind of introduction that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! The first violin plays a long, lamenting melody before the ensemble enters, eventually reaching a brief crescendo. The two violins return to the opening mood, with sparse cello accompaniment. Suddenly a change comes over the music, bringing with it a certain optimism in a major key. The long violin lines persist and the cello drops into a two-note ostinato for a time. Then comes a very intense section where the violins once again play at crescendo volume. It soon falls away, however, before rising again. There are some angst-ridden chords as the crescendos come and go. Eventually, the first violin leads the music back to the opening mood. The cello ostinato returns for a time. When it stops, the two violins become ever so sparse and the final notes are played on the cello.

The second movement begins in an agitated fashion with a triplet motif underpinning the development. After a brief pause a solo violin leads into a strident passage; very busy. The agitation returns before moving into a pastoral section. A pizzicato motif lifts the intensity, the triplets return and then it’s all over. This is quite a brief movement.

The final movement opens with a brief, powerful statement before dropping back to two passive violins. The introduction is repeated and we are back to two violins again. This is reminiscent of the first movement. After some slow stabbing chords the section becomes dance-like. It is stretching the boundaries of tonality as it resolutely moves forward. Now follows some perfect peace with the two violins intertwined for a time. This is a most charming passage, in a very slow tempo. It eventually builds in intensity while retaining the tempo. The mood is broken by another crescendo with further agitation. This mood lasts for a considerable time before returning to the previous peaceful feeling. Now the music becomes very sparse with soft interjections from all instruments. They eventually gather together and the two violins converse over a cello and viola ostinato again. Moving towards the end, the violins increase the intensity before falling away. A brief, decisive passage concludes the work.

Despite the sporadic agitation, there is much appealing music to be found here. The first movement is wonderful. The second (1957) and third (1969) quartets are both very interesting as well. The second has a marvellous slow movement. They are more Modern than the first.

The review CD is available as The Complete String Quartets on the Carducci Classics label, by the Carducci String Quartet from Amazon US and UK. This disc is on Spotify, and can be found on both YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Quiet, emotional, accessible works.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.