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Graham Whettam - Quartets
String Quartet no.1 Oboe Quartet no.2 String Quartet no.4

The Carducci Quartet with Jennie-Lee Keetley (oboe)

Carducci Classics CSQ5847 [64 mins]

These quartets recorded in celebration of the 80th birthday of a self taught English composer are welcome offerings by a fine string quartet (its members two young married couples !) which is clearly determined to escape the well worn path of the over-recorded canon of masterworks.

In the impressive website of his own publishing house Meriden Music, the prolilfic composer Graham Whettam (1927 - 2007*) publishes over 75 of his own works. He explains there that his early influences were Bartok and Mahler, and he found his own 'voice' by listening self-critically to his works played by eminent musicians and orchestras.

Of those quartets recorded here, I enjoyed best the first (1960/67) and was impressed by the playing of the Carduccis and the perfect recording by Thomas Hewitt Jones in an excellent church ambience at Leonard Stanley in the Cotswolds (click the link to see it). The presentation by Adam Folkus is good too, save for the washed-out grey under-printing of the Quartet's nice colour publicity photo.

Well constructed in three movements, rather conservative for its time, the string quartet is followed on the CD by an oboe solo played by the feisty Jennie-Lee Kennedy without pause (a nice touch) to open the second of these three quartets. But, against the grain and in my view unwisely, Whettam responded with "advanced playing techniques in vogue at the time" for the oboe as specified in the commission (with a few strings glisses etc thrown in).

None of that in the later String Quartet No 4 (1987/1997 - Dore Abbey's 850th anniversary) which I found rather contrived, incorporating the Arts Council's initials, a passacaglia and a fuga danzate etc. Whettam provides his own notes, replete with name-dropping; again, unwisely, I felt.

But it is good to have music to hear that is diligently put together and completely unknown; any one of these pieces would find a welcome as a novelty in a chamber music recital - but not all three ! All praise to the Carduccis for supporting my namesake Graham Whettam in his 80th birthday year (mine too, as it happens).

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also the Carduccis in Haydn - N.B. Hyperlinks are integral to Musical Pointers reviews - do click onto them! [Editor]

* I have just learnt that Grahame Whettam died on August 17th. All I could find on the Web is a blog by a clarinettist, Geraldine Allen:

Composer's Legacy - - I heard at the beginning of the week that a friend and colleague of mine the composer, Graham Whettam had died last Friday. I first got to know Graham in the 1980s when I was performing a series of concerts featuring British Music and one of those pieces was the Whettam Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano. There were some tempo markings in the music which I did not think made sense - - rather than play the music at a tempo marking which for me seemed far too fast I gave him a call! That call led on to me performing the Sonatina frequently from Music Clubs to the Wigmore Hall and recording it for radio 3 and this in turn led to two new commissions - Impromptu for solo clarinet and Graham Whettam's second clarinet concerto which was dedicated to me. I also performed and broadcast Graham's first clarinet concerto as well as giving numerous performances of other arrangements of his music - - my performing career then came to an abrupt halt in 1993 when I had a road accident which stopped me performing professionally. Hearing that Graham had died brought an era to a close [Geraldine, Friday, August 24, 2007]