How we listen now?
English Piano Quartets
The Primrose Piano Quartet
William M. Y. Hurlstone
Piano Quartet in E minor, op.43
Some heavy promotion, with hyped reviews and extravagantly inclusive CVs (together with unavailability to cover a new reincarnation of The Primrose Piano Quartet at Wigmore Hall) combined to prompt me to listen again to music which is outside our usual fields of interest. Are we unduly prejudiced against native contributions to the earlier years of the last century?
A couple of days with these CDs brought to mind the difficulty of actually concentrating whilst listening. My mind wandered occasionally and then it was not always obvious which composer one was still with...
Of particular interest are the commentaries by Francis Pott, a composer who has engaged our attention in recent weeks. It is professorial stuff, lengthy and in small (but legible, no-nonsense black-on-white) print. Pott is steeped in tonal idioms (as a composer, those imprinted during the "choirboy experience", which he discusses in notes for his CD of Meditations & Romances, in words virtually identical to those which introduced his magnum opus for choir The Cloud of Unknowing: "music predicated on doubt - - articulation of uncertainty", which is scheduled to be recorded by Signum.
Pott's analyses of these nearly forgotten piano quartets go into detail about key relationships and influences, which may not be the way that most of us listen (or indeed can listen) now? They remind me of how Tovey guided us into the core classics when we were young...
Meridian doesn't make things too easy. The pages are unnumbered and the pagination peculiar, with the composers discussed in a different order to their presence on the discs themselves, and (in the first one) with scant use of bold. They confuse us by telling of the new Primrose Quartet personnel, with two former members of The Lindsays, a change which happened after both these CDs were made.
I enjoyed best the "vehement" Bax (dedicated to his mistress, "the ambitious young pianist Harriet Cohen") and the Bridge Phantasy Quartet for Cobbett, which "eventually comes to rest in an F# major still overshadowed by tangential hints of its minor equivalent..."
All in all, a better read than a listen. Advertising is fine in its place, but counter productive to read after you've bought a disc! Other responses would be welcomed?
See also review by Ying Chang: - - Very pleasant listening, although those brought up on the Schumanm, Brahms, Dvorak and Faure quartets will be left wanting something more, from both composers and performers.
© Peter Grahame Woolf