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Primrose Piano Quartet
John Thwaites (piano), Suzanne Stanzeleit (violin), Susie Meszaros (viola), Bernard Gregor-Smith ('cello
) Celia Watehouse (vn), Leon Bosch (double bass) 

Hurlstone Piano Quartet in E minor Op43
Quilter Gipsy Life
Dunhill Piano Quartet in B minor Op 16
Bax Piano Quartet in one movement
Meridian CDE 84519

Bridge Phantasy Piano Quartet in F# minor
Howells Piano Quartet in A minor Op21
Alwyn Rhapsody for Piano Quartet
Scott Piano Quartet Op 16
Meridian CDE 84547

Piano chamber music, as Francis Pott's admirable notes to these discs remind us, presents problems of integration and balance unique to each combination of instruments – the piano quartet is arguably the hardest to write for, against Thomas Dunhill's choice of the trio referred to by Pott, since the natural 'oppositions' of piano v string quartet, or two hands v two string players are not available. Precisely because of the compositional challenge, there are probably more good examples of quartets then quintets – certainly Tovey believed so.

Apart from detailed notes on the repertoire, always helpful when neglected pieces are revived, Pott rightly points to the well-known influence of Brahms on the chamber writing of the early part of the 20th century, and the neglected, but equal importance of Faure as a model. The opening of the Hurlstone, for example, seems a direct homage to the Faure First Piano Quartet, while both its last movement and the Dunhill's more than gesture at the Brahms Piano Quintet. The Quilter, for example, is extremely convincing pastiche in the style of Brahms' Hungarian dances.

The playing is always neat and adequate, but lacks the bite and charisma that are found –say- on the fine series of piano quartet recordings by Domus. Thwaites does not have the same energy, imagination and edge as a Susan Tomes, let alone a Pollini (whose Brahms Piano Quintet with the Italians remains a classic recording in this genre) nor is the string playing – although excellently integrated, as expressive. Listen to – say- the clunkiness of the piano chords in the last movement of the Scott, or the thinness (rather than silveriness) of Stanzeleit's violin in the con sordini third movement. The opening of the Hurlstone, and the Bax are likewise undercharacterised, although there are certainly highlights over the two discs, such as the lively last movement of the Howells (tightly compared to Capriol in the notes). The Bridge, which opens the second disc, is perhaps the most successful piece overall.

Elsewhere on this site, the editor has commented on the distraction of booklet presentation that places so much emphasis on marketing the ensemble (quotes, photos, reference to personnel change that doesn't apply to the artists on the recording), and there is no doubt these discs have very modern production values (they are also partly funded by research grants from Thames Valley University, where the Primroses are based.)

If this series continues, Pott may find it difficult to avoid repeating himself, since the synoptic content of his discussions apply to all examples of the form. This is without doubt an extremely worthy project, a snapshot of English musical culture in that neglected period between Stanford /Parry and Britten /Tippett and an insight into various artistic solutions to a particular form, as well as a means of bringing neglected repertoire to light.

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.

Ying Chang


© Peter Grahame Woolf