British composer William Alwyn [1905-1985] wrote three string quartets between 1953 and 1984. According to Wikipedia, Alwyn ‘relished dissonance, and devised his own alternative to twelve-tone serialism’. Sounds like my kind of guy.
His second quartet was written in 1975 and has three movements. It is titled Spring Waters.
The first movement opens in a picturesque mood as befits the title. A melody quickly develops and it soon becomes quite rowdy with violins swallow-diving over and around the ensemble. The movement pauses and we have a recapitulation of the opening theme. The violins are very active here. The mood is extended with a solo cello section; this is all at a very low volume. The melodies are delightful at this level. A mournful first violin reaches out and there is an occasional response from the second violin. Now the volume increases for a brief interlude until the violins return with their dialogue. This extends for about three minutes to the end. And a fine three minutes it is; very precious music and playing!
The second movement starts with a slightly serious motivic theme. A brief pizzicato section follows and then a recapitulation of the opening theme. This time it is developed more extensively. A second theme is heard and then a third. This is developing into a moody soundscape. A solo cello moves the music forward. Notwithstanding the occasional spikey interjection, the mood becomes slightly intangible. There are motifs and melodies everywhere, and much dialogue, but all the while measured. After a time, the ensemble returns in full with an energised, serious feeling. Then we have more very quiet violin dialogues, moving to a conclusion.
The final movement features some ever so soft string effects. The cello makes a brief statement and the quiet violins return. This is followed by a slow, gently abstract passage which makes for some fine introspection. Suddenly, the volume returns and there is a sense of urgency. It then fades into a solo cello passage. The previous introspective mood returns, this time the cello has more to say. Towards the end, the volume soars and there is some busy music until it finishes with the obligatory flourish.
This quartet has grown on me the past couple of days. It definitely sounds British, not particularly Modern, but with some quietly mild atonality and dissonance; which is how I like it…
String Quartets 1-3 by the Maggini Quartet is available on the Naxos label at Amazon US and UK. It is also on Spotify and some of the quartets are available on YouTube. Many of Alwyn’s quartets are on earsense, which also features the two string quartets of his wife, Doreen Carwithen.
Listenability: Quality British workmanship.