Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Ian Wilson  Chamber Music

String Quartets 4 – 6; Pieces for Violin and /or Piano

Callino String Quartet
Catherine Leonard (violin)
Hugh Tinney (piano)

Riverrun Records RR 65 (violin / piano) and RR77 (quartets)

The string quartets are powerful, convincing works, well played and recorded; this is a disc that will please any listener interested in contemporary string music. ‘Please’ is an inappropriate word, however; these works were written around the time Wilson experienced war in the former Yugoslavia. They are a dark fusion of Celtic mordancy, yearning and jagged textures. Quartet No 4, which opens the disc, is a particular success, compressed and brooding, melting into a meditative slow movement. The very good, close recording and stylish presentation also give a sense of intensity. The Callinos play with great presence and commitment; their strong rhythmic sense and confidence always allow the listener to feel he is in safe hands.

Whereas the sting quartet disc is extremely consistent in style and emotional effect, the other Wilson disc under review is an interesting insight into the composer’s development over a longer timespan. Wilson supplies gently self-critical notes describing the different influences (starting with minimalism in BIG) that shaped his music. Lem is the melodically attractive solo part of Wilson’s piano concerto. In Drive, the violin and piano have essentially opposite tasks. Excellent performances from Hugh Tinney and Catherine Leonard.

On the evidence of these discs, Wilson is a shining example of a contemporary composer. He has a distinctive voice, which acknowledges his Irish origins but is not defined by them. His current style is ‘traditionally modernist,’ that is, the listener is always given sufficient guidance to follow the direction of the music. However, some will find that direction too melancholic, even dreary, too much a stereotype of Celtic unhappiness. For others, it goes to the heart of the human condition.

Wilson also seems to have a steady flow of commissions and grants. Do make an effort to listen to his work. 

Ying Chang