Friday 30 January 2015

Nimbus release a recording of four very fine quartets by Christopher Wright that deserve the widest audience

It was only in December last year that I was reviewing Christopher Wright’s remarkably fine cello concerto that was coupled with cello concertos by Robert Simpson and John Joubert .

Now from Nimbus comes a new recording of all of Wright’s string quartets to date. These four quartets span the period from 1978-80 to 2012 thus giving us a broad view of Wright’s musical development over his compositional career to date. They are played by the Fejes Quartet , an ensemble founded in 2006 by players that met initially as members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

NI 6291
Christopher Wright (b.1954)  was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and studied composition with Richard Arnell and later with Stanley Glasser, Alan Bullard & Nicholas Sackman. He has since been active as a trombonist, pianist, choral conductor/trainer and composer. His compositions include choral, vocal, orchestral, chamber and instrumental works as well as works for brass and wind band.

Quartet No. 1 (1978-80), the composer tells us in his informative booklet note, was written after studying the quartets of Bartok and is the closest he came to composing in a purely atonal language. The Lento e tranquillo-Agitato opens with a long held violin note to which the other players join, high in their register. Slowly each player introduces little surges before they all come together in a vibrant passage. The music soon falls to a quieter, thoughtful passage but the louder theme returns as the music alternates between louder, vibrant string writing and the quieter moments, sometimes sonorous, sometimes wiry and ethereal.  Although Wright speaks of its dodecaphonic nature, within these confines are many melodic phrases and passages through which the players weave many fine sonorities, colours and textures before the decisive coda.

The cello brings a long breathed melody in the Adagio-Poco animato-Adagio before the whole Quartet join, bringing some of the ethereal quality of the quieter moments of the first movement. The melody is soon developed through some fine passages full of intense feeling with many fine dissonances, played with much sensitivity by the Fejes Quartet.

Strident chords open the Presto ritmico-tempo di valse-tempo1 before a theme, often with an insistent rhythm, appears. Soon a playful waltz theme arrives which is soon elaborated on by the players before the Presto returns to take us to the coda.

This is a really impressive first quartet.

The Allegretto-Allegro aggrevemente of Quartet No. 2 (1995) opens with a rhythmically buoyant theme before falling to a quieter, slower section, pensive and shimmering with little sliding falls and pizzicato violin. Soon the music suddenly rises up full of forward drive but slows with pizzicato phrases from the players and more vibrant shimmering passages before rushing to the coda.

A pizzicato cello opens the Aria Lementoso before sighing strings join, the first violin then adding a sad melody over the other players. They then begin to build the music weaving all of these separate elements, becoming darker and colder in mood as it progresses. They develop some icy, withdrawn passages which only the viola’s melody helps to warm. Later a deep theme from the cello adds a mournful touch along with anxious bursts from the other players. There is some particularly fine playing here before sighs from the violins appear leading to a hushed coda.

The players leap straight in for the Allegro-energico con fuoco – Meno mosso – Vivace with a repeated motif before developing in a terrific section where the players follow each other in a fugal theme, brilliantly played. The music is interrupted by a strange passage where the instruments weave a very fine texture before the music takes off once again in the fugal theme.

This fine quartet, full of different moods was premiered in 1995 at the BMIC (British Music Information Centre) in London by the Kingfisher Quartet.

Christopher Wright considers that his Quartet No. 3 (2005) marked a turning point in his compositional style, particularly in the second movement where the abrasive, dissonant sound of Bartok is replaced by smoother, consonant music.

The players leap in at the opening of the Molto Allegro-Lento-Molto Allegro with a descending motif that precedes a hushed passage. There is a repeat of the opening followed by a repeat of shimmering quiet passage to which the cello adds a melancholy melody. The strings provide harmonics before the opening vibrant theme returns and is developed. The music is full of energy, rising and falling in dynamics before slowing and quietening and leading into the second movement Lento doleroso-Sostenuto-Teneramente an often dark and mysterious movement as the music gently moves around. Soon the players enter high up in the range, hushed and ethereal, before the cello brings a brief melody reflected by the other players who slowly fall in pitch as the melody is developed. There is some exquisite writing here expertly played by this Quartet. Soon the music rises in anguish before the players bring a richer texture, full of emotion. All quietens as a melancholy passage arrives, quite beautiful and affecting before a little violin melody is played over the rest of the Quartet and the hushed coda is reached.

The last movement, Presto ritmico-Andante-Lento-tempo di primo opens with a buoyant yet hesitant motif that soon develops into a rhythmically bouncing theme with a lovely lilt. Pizzicato strings lead to a slower, reflective section recalling the opening of the work before moving forward, with the Presto returning to lead to the coda.

Wright’s most recent quartet, the Quartet No. 4 ‘Beacon Fell' (2012), was inspired by visits to a place near the Pendle range of hills in Lancashire, drawing on personal and seasonal changes encountered during that time.

The first of Wright’s quartets to be in four movements, the Con Appassione has a bright and cheerful theme that is developed, falling to a flowing yet more hushed passage before taking off again. The music repeatedly falls and rises, each time becoming more vibrant in nature. Eventually a flowing melody arrives full of emotion before pizzicato strings bring a rise in vibrancy that leads the music ever more spiritedly forward to the coda.

A fast flowing theme swirls forward in the Scherzo interrupted by pizzicato chords. This is a good natured theme with the feel of the outdoors, at times wistful at other times full of the fresh air of nature.

In the opening of the Lento e sostenuto-Molto pesante the cello introduces a beautiful theme that is immediately taken by the whole Quartet, again vividly evoking the feel of the outdoors with some very fine textures and sonorities. The music becomes richer and more intense as it progresses with quite dense textures. A hushed passage is reached, full of the most exquisite playing from this Quartet, before the opening theme returns for the coda.

The violins bring a fast descending theme that immediately takes us into the syncopated rhythm of the Allegro deciso e ritmico-Molto Allegro with some fine flourishes from these players. The music develops through some lovely passages with a breeziness that is quite beguiling.

This new disc gives us the opportunity to hear how Christopher Wright has developed his musical language. Throughout there is a distinctive voice at work.

These are very fine quartets that deserve the widest audience. The Fejes Quartet are terrific and they receive a first rate recording from St. Ninian’s Church, Troon, Scotland.

There are excellent booklet notes from the composer.

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