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CD Review

Alan Rawsthorne

The Four String Quartets

  • Quartet for Strings (1935)
  • Quartet for Strings #1 "Theme & Variations" (1939)
  • Quartet for Strings #2 (1954)
  • Quartet for Strings #3 (1965)
Flesch Quartet
Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA983 75m DDD
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Although Alan Rawsthorne is one of England's most prolific 20th century composers, his music has not captured the public's imagination quite as much as that of his contemporaries, particularly that of William Walton.

Born in 1905, he studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1926, and his pianistic skills were good enough to encourage him to continue his musical education abroad with Egon Petri. Before moving to London in 1935, Rawsthorne worked at Darlington Hall in Dover, where in 1933, the Griller Quartet performed one of his pieces.

After settling in London, Rawsthorne's mind was made up; he wanted to create rather than perform, and this burning desire sustained him all throughout his career, until his death in 1971. His music is fastidious and extremely well organized, it is also deeply observant and contains a sharp edged wit with a style that is very similar to that of Paul Hindemith, with an emphasis on clean instrumental lines and constantly shifting tonalities, and its basis is always that of structural strength and consummate craftsmanship.

The pieces on this disc have a 30-year span between them; from the Unpublished Quartet of 1935 to the Third Quartet of 1965. Those numbered 1 and 2 date from 1939 and 1954 respectively. Although this music is not easily accessible, repeated listening will reveal an artist that is deeply sensitive not only to the seismic changes of his time, but also to those minute events that affect everyday life.

The Flesch Quartet's totally committed performances are nothing short of phenomenal, illuminating the complex textures with such detail that the music almost sounds less dense than it really is. Dramatic intensity is also high and wonderfully sustained. All praise to AS&V then for this valuable addition to the Rawsthorne discography, particularly in his centenary year which has been somewhat neglected by the record companies.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech