Press & Acclaim

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Delius & Elgar CD

Elgar’s only string quartet, a masterpiece of the chamber music repertoire premiered in 1918, is well established. That of his contemporary Delius, dating from a year earlier, is more of a rarity. The composer was discontented with his first (three-movement) attempt and reworked the opening movement and the wistful “Late Swallows” slow movement. Both versions are included here, each characterised by boundless melody, unexpected major-minor shifts and rhythmic buoyancy. The Villiers Quartet, formed in 2011 and specialists in English music (among other things; they are an inquisitive ensemble), play the Delius with zest and passion. Their Elgar, too, is febrile and bold. Fresh playing all round, at budget price.

Two string quartets written by major British composers during the dark years of World War I are the focus of the latest Naxos disc from the young Villiers Quartet and, like their previous releases of works by Robert Still and Peter Racine Fricker, they provide rich food for thought.

Frederick Delius originally composed his String Quartet in E minor as a three-movement work in spring 1916, and it was premiered in that form the following November. However, he was dissatisfied with the piece, and the following year substantially revised it, reworking the outer movements, adding a second-movement scherzo, and completely recomposing the Late Swallows second movement. This became the work’s published form, opening proceedings here, but, thanks to some musicological detective work by Daniel Grimley, the Villiers Quartet also include the original versions of the opening movement and the Late Swallows slow movement. It is particularly fascinating to hear the latter in its earlier form, with its opening first violin flourish and poignant middle section.

The Villiers Quartet play the whole work as to the manner born, bringing out the music’s febrile flair, its nods to French Impressionism and even Schoenbergian Expressionism. They bring out all the repressed passion, too, in the extraordinary homophonic eruptions that twice explode during the course of the first movement, but in the 1917 second movement they are fleet and graceful, and in the Late Swallows movement they capture the mysterious wistfulness of the central episode in both its versions. Throughout, rhythms are buoyant, intonation faultless and the alert playing has flashes of keen wit. If you’re looking for a version of the Delius Quartet for your library, this is now a clear front runner for a work that has been undeservedly neglected.

Elgar’s three-movement E minor String Quartet is one of three chamber works he wrote in the second half of 1918 after recuperating from a nervous breakdown brought on in the previous year by news of the war. These were very different works from the patriotic morale-boosters he had written in the conflict’s earlier stages, taking refuge in ‘absolute’ music but also full of passion alongside nobility. The Villiers Quartet bring out these qualities but also, thanks to the stereo separation of an immersive recording (at St Silas Church, Pentonville), the sheer richness of the scoring, which at times brings to mind the contemporaneous Cello Concerto. The intermezzo-like Piacevole central movement, with its quotation of the Chanson de Matin, was a favourite of Elgar’s wife, Alice, and it was played at her funeral in 1920, the year following the Quartet’s premiere. Here it receives a performance of gentle delicacy with moments of supreme radiance, while the outer movements are confident and bold, a testament to Elgar’s capacity for renewal.

Anyone looking for a British alternative to the ubiquitous Debussy-Ravel coupling would do well to acquire this disc, which adds yet another feather to the Villiers’ cap, as well as providing unusual added value in the form of the recovered early version of the Delius. There are helpfully detailed notes on both works by Daniel Grimley, and the presentation is attractive, complementing Michael Wight’s fine recording.

Delius and Elgar – String Quartets: The Villiers, undoubtedly one of the finest young British string quartets to have emerged in recent years, have an in-born feel for the music of Delius, and here breathe life into a gorgeous score that is seldom heard in the concert hall. Though composed in France in the midst of the First World War, it is by nature a pastoral work, the Villiers lavishing playing of exquisite beauty. By contrast Elgar was by nature an outgoing character, though he had suffered a nervous breakdown during the war, and his quartet was full of yearning for times that were long past, and it ends in deep sadness.In every way this is a superb release in Naxos’s excellent recording. By David Denton

“the Villiers musicians open their hearts, mining the music’s expressive core with a Barbirolli-like sense of awe and wonder”

The Delius Quartet is so strikingly imaginative that its relative neglect seems unfathomable, especially when it is played with such affectionate warmth and understanding as here. Taking Delius’s intonationally taxing chromatic harmonies and tantalising interpretative dichotomy of expressive ripeness and motivic economy in their stride, the Villiers Quartet musicians impart a compelling sense of direction to even the most elusive of phrases. If the general tendency with this score is to play it slightly cool, such is the degree of voluptuous sensuality already built into its aching suspensions, the Villiers musicians open their hearts, mining the music’s expressive core with a Barbirolli-like sense of awe and wonder. Invaluably, they also include Delius’s original opening movement and the first (very different) version of the ‘Late Swallows’ third movement, as expertly reconstructed by Daniel Grimley. The Elgar Quartet is another work that has proved stubbornly elusive on disc. As in so much music that grew out of the First World War period, a feeling of tension between syntax and semantics prevails, with the promise of a ‘big tune’ being continually frustrated by an exquisite sense of contextual restraint. Again, the Villiers balances expressive intensity with a chamber-scale introspection that draws the listener in, enhanced by a discreetly atmospheric yet detailed sound picture.

-JULIAN HAYLOCK

Klassik Heute( Germany) ” a full, warm sound meets with sophisticated dynamic and.” nor is the British Villiers Quartet in Germany unknown. This CD could possibly change this”

Performance Quarlity 9/10

Sound Quality 9/10

Overall Impression 9/10

Das britische Villiers Quartet ist in Deutschland noch unbekannt, stellt sich jedoch hier als eine hochkarätige Quartettvereinigung vor. Ein voller, warmer Klang trifft sich mit ausgefeilter dynamischer Feinarbeit, das Spiel ist strukturell deutlich und temperamentvoll gleichermaßen, und man würde das Ensemble gern mit dem Standardrepertoire der Quartettliteratur kennenlernen. Hier nun präsentieren die Musiker zwei Quartette britischer Komponisten aus der Zeit des Ersten Weltkrieges. Zwar ist Edward Elgar sicher der gewichtigere und bekanntere Komponist von den beiden, aber das Quartett von Frederick Delius stellt wirklich eine Überraschung dar: während das Werk Elgars vergleichsweise spätromantisch-konventionell klingt, offenbart Delius unerwartete harmonische Kühnheiten und eine komplexe Faktur, die das Stück eher in die Nähe des frühen Arnold Schönberg oder von Alexander Zemlinsky rückt. Es ist eine spannungsreiche Komposition voller origineller Ideen und Finessen, was man von dem wohl zu Unrecht unter „ferner liefen“ abgeschätzten Delius kaum erwartet hätte. Diese CD ist also sowohl von der Interpretation als auch von der kompositorischen Substanz her eine lohnende Entdeckung.

-Dr. Hartmut Lück [24.08.2017]

Klara Radio(Belgium) “..sophistication, strength and great emotional intensity”

4/4 stars

Ook voor de generatie van Britse musici en componisten die de Eerste Wereldoorlog meemaakten, was het zoeken naar een juist (artistiek) antwoord op de soms nauwelijks te bevatten verschrikkingen. Edward Elgar en Frederick Delius, bijna perfecte tijdgenoten maar heel verschillende persoonlijkheden, waren te oud om nog in militaire dienst opgeroepen te worden, maar de oorlog zou wel een grote invloed uitoefenen op hun latere werk.

Toen de oorlog uitbrak wierp Elgar zich meteen en met veel energie in allerlei muzikale activiteiten die het moreel van het publiek hoog moesten houden. Maar toen de berichten van het vasteland steeds gruwelijker werden, stortte hij in de loop van 1917 mentaal in. Samen met zijn echtgenote verhuisde hij naar het platteland, en daar zette hij zich aan het componeren van een reeks van drie nieuwe kamermuziekstukken: de vioolsonate, het pianokwintet en het strijkkwartet. In die periode ontstond ook zijn bekende, nostalgische celloconcerto. Zijn driedelige strijkkwartet is een wrang, nerveus, verinnerlijkt en lyrisch werk.

Delius en zijn echtgenote pendelden in de beginjaren van de oorlog tussen Frankrijk, hun nieuwe vaderland, en Engeland. Het was uiteindelijk in zijn geliefde huis in Gréz-sur-Loing dat Delius zijn strijkkwartet in 1917 zou voltooien. Maar omdat hij niet tevreden was over het eindresultaat herwerkte hij het een jaar later: hij voegde een scherzo toe, bracht wijzigingen aan in de hoekdelen en herschreef het trage deel Late Swallows. Het mooie aan deze nieuwe Naxos-uitgave is dat de leden van het Villiers Quartet ook de originele versies van de eerste twee delen hebben opgenomen.

Dat Britse Villiers Quartet, opgericht in 2011, is een ensemble dat gespecialiseerd is in 20e-eeuwse Engelse muziek. Het nam eerder, ook voor Naxos, al strijkkwartetten op van onbekende componisten als Robert Still en Peter Racine Fricker. Zij spelen hier het weinig bekende strijkkwartet van Delius met passie, een mooie concentratie, toewijding en ritmische precisie. Ook in het werk van Elgar brengen ze verfijning, kracht en vooral een grote emotionele intensiteit.

– Bart Tijskens

(English Translation)

The Netherlands are not very keen on British composers. When does one ever hear the great works by Frederick Delius over here?

The beautiful Evergreens that are heard sometimes (On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, A Walk To the Paradise Gardens) should be an invitation to hear more? Long before Brexit Delius was a cosmopolitan European, and his ties with France, Germany and Scandinavia sound through in his works. That certainly applies to this String quartet from 1916, in which influences of Debussy, Mendelssohn and

English folk melodies lead to a masterful, very personal and harmonic interesting reflection of the First World War. Delius took the Second movement (Scherzo) took Delius from an early quartet from 1888.

Highlight is the third movement, Late Swallows, a magnificent, slow reflection.

For this CD there are also alternative early versions of the opening movement and Late Swallows included – especially the latter one is a true discovery.

More popular on our continent is Edward Elgar, though his string quartet from 1919 is rarely heard. Much too rarely, this passionate performance, played with deep insight of this emotional work by the magical Villiers Quartet shows. A CD that may broaden your musical horizon.

-Gerald Sheltens

5/5 stars

Während Edward Elgars Musik schon immer als durchweg very british galt, war das Schaffen seines Landsmannes Frederick Delius so simpel nicht einzuordnen. Delius war schließlich ein Mann mit Bielefelder Wurzeln und stets auf Wanderschaft. Nach Aufenthalten in den USA und in Leipzig, wo er u.a. bei Carl Reinecke studierte, ließ sich Delius 1897 für den Rest seines Lebens in der Nähe von Fontainebleau nieder. Hier komponierte er 1917 auch sein einziges Streichquartett, das das junge englische, mit einer wunderbaren Tonfülle und Farbpalette gesegnete Villiers Quartet nun mit dem ebenfalls einzigen Elgar-Vierer gekoppelt hat. Und wenn sich der französische Geist jemals in dem Werk eines Engländers niedergeschlagen hat, dann bei Delius. Allein schon der Eröffnungssatz ist ein einziges herrliches Schmachten, eine Mischung aus sanften Brisen und dahinschwebendem Melos im besten Belle Époque-Charme. Gefühlskalte Ignoranten werden diese Musik als puren Kitsch abtun. Die anderen geben sich ihr einfach hin. Zumal Delius nicht zuletzt im Finale des viersätzigen Werks immer wieder gekonnt seine Liebe auch zu Ravel hörbar macht. Einen kleinen Blick in die Werkstatt von Delius gewähren zudem die Weltersteinspielungen des Eingangs- und des mit „Late Swallows“ bezeichneten langsamen Satzes in den Urfassungen von 1916. Zwei Jahre danach setzte sich Elgar an sein dreisätziges Opus in c-Moll, das wie das Geschwisterwerk seines Landsmannes meilenweit von jenen Ultra-Modernitäten entfernt ist, die sich in der Streichquartett-Gattung nicht zuletzt dank der Schönbergs & Co. zusammengebraut hatten. Doch auch hier werfen die Villiers dank ihrer exquisit ausbalancierten kammermusikalischen Partnerschaft ausreichend viele Köder aus, um dieses mal rhapsodisch in sich gekehrte und dann wieder mit großer Klangfülle die ganze Welt umarmende Werk in vollen Zügen genießen zu können.

Guido Fischer, 01.07.2017

Von Frederick Delius’ einzigem Streichquartett gibt es zwei verschiedene Fassungen. In der usprünglichen, dreisätzigen Form wurde das Werk 1916 zum ersten Mal gespielt. Nur, in dieser Form gefiel es Delius wohl noch nicht so richtig. Ein neukomponiertes Scherzo erweiterte das Quartett, und neben stärkeren Änderungen am Kopfsatz arbeitete Delius den langsamen Satz mit dem Titel “Late Swallows” komplett um.

DER CD-TIPP ZUM ANHÖREN

Delius und Elgar: Streichquartette

Gerade dieser Eingriff bestätigt, dass es Delius in erster Linie um das “Feeling” einer Komposition ging. Er wollte berühren und von Musik berührt werden. Das Mittel dazu war für ihn in erster Linie die harmonische Intensität. Die neue Version des Streichquartetts in der heute bekannten viersätzigen Form ist tatsächlich als Ganzes viel ausgewogener. Es gewinnt an Ausdruck und Finesse und ist durch die nun etwas leichtere Textur besser auf die Klangmöglichkeiten eines Streichquartetts abgestimmt. Nachzuvollziehen ist diese Entwicklung auf der neuen CD des Villiers Quartet, eines junges Streichquartetts aus London mit Schwerpunkt auf dem englischen Repertoire. Neben der Standardversion ist auch eine Rekonstruktion der beiden stark veränderten Sätze Eins und Drei zu hören. Somit werden beide Fassungen miteinander vergleichbar.

HOMOGENER GESAMTKLANG

Zu diesem völlig zu Unrecht selten zu hörenden Werk gesellt sich das ebenfalls in E-Moll stehende Streichquartett von Edward Elgar. Elgars Streichquartett entstand ungefähr zur gleichen Zeit, in seinem Kammermusikjahr 1918. Und auch dieses sehr innige und musikalisch dichte Werk wird meist nicht wirklich seinem Range entsprechend gewürdigt. Das Villiers Quartet spielt aufmerksam und akkurat, ohne pathetische Zugaben wird die emotionale Intensität beider Kompositionen nachgezeichnet. Das wäre wohl auch ganz im Sinne von Delius gewesen. Dabei legen die vier Musikerinnen und Musiker viel Wert auf einen schönen, homogenen Gesamtklang und wunderbar geschmeidige Übergänge. Mit dieser CD festigt das Villiers Quartet seinen Ruf als eines der vielversprechendsten englischen Nachwuchsensembles. Und legt zur unvermeidlichen Debussy-Ravel-Paarung eine englische Alternative vor, die zudem durch die hier zum ersten Mal eingespielte Frühversion des Delius-Quartetts einen besonderen Repertoirewert erhält.

Fricker CD

With impeccable timing, the Villiers Quartet have captured the current mood of edgy, querulous uncertainty with their release of the three magnificently bracing string quartets of Peter Racine Fricker (1920-90). Though separated by several years, each is distinctly in Fricker’s unique voice, never quite atonal; always charged with a vital, questing energy. No 3 from 1976 is the most spectacular, with a tautly syncopated allegro feroce, a Shostakovich-like adagio and a disquieting allegro inquieto. The playing of this highly talented quartet, champions of British music, is superb throughout and augurs well for their forthcoming release of Delius and Elgar.

Any Bartók or Shostakovich aficionado should enjoy getting to grips with the quartets of Peter Racine Fricker (1920–90), which here receive magnificently assured, mostly premiere recordings. The Second was commissioned by the Amadeus Quartet and recorded in 1953, four years after the ensemble and its audiences had been impressed by Fricker’s extended single-movement First Quartet.

The influence of Bartók – through Fricker’s teacher Mátyás Seiber – is most palpably but productively digested in the Second Quartet, from its cogently discursive first movement through a scherzo spiked with nocturnal pizzicatos to a concluding Adagio that deserves the inquieto marking given to other movements in the cycle. The Third dates from 1976, once Fricker had settled happily in California. Despite his declared revival of interest in the genre thanks to Elliott Carter’s Third Quartet, the work doesn’t notably develop or advance from the Second until a variation finale, which invests Webernian serial procedures with infectiously vernacular vigour.

This is demanding music, and the Villiers Quartet has done well for reviving it with such immersive mastery that the occasionally grey, cardboard quality of the melodic material is coloured and corrugated into quirky, restlessly compelling structures. The London church acoustic lends bloom and a sense of space to Fricker’s never-quite-atonal harmonies without occluding them.

Peter Quantrill

Concert

The Westmorland Gazette

“award-winning string quartet shares festival stage with acclaimed baritone”
The award-winning Villiers String Quartet made their debut appearance at Lake District Summer Music in an attractive programme at St Thomas’s Church, Kendal, writes CLIVE WALKLEY.

This concert was a collaborative venture with the young bass singer, Benjamin Appl who joined the quartet for a performance of Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, a setting of words by Matthew Arnold.

The programme opened with a polished performance of the second of Haydn’s magnificent Op 76 string quartets and this established the quality of the playing for the rest of the evening. Close attention was paid to Haydn’s dynamic markings; all four players played as one, carefully pointing up the details of this finely constructed work.

The Villiers Quartet seek to devise innovative programmes, combining works from the standard repertoire with lesser-known pieces or commissioning new works. Thus, in this programme the inclusion of Delius’ second string quartet Late Swallows. Delius redrafted the work after its first performance and it is this version that is normally heard today. However, the original material has recently been reassembled and what we heard was the quartet as Delius originally conceived it in 1916. Listening to the work, so beautifully played, it is difficult to understand why the composer felt the need to rewrite it.

Dover Beach, a work written when the composer was only 21, seems to have fallen out of fashion with audiences today and so it was good to hear it so sensitively performed by the quartet and Benjamin Appl. The gloomy Victorian text, ostensibly a nocturnal meditation on the sea, but as the excellent programme notes described it, in reality ‘a metaphor for the flow of human existence,’ has a relevance to the contemporary world in which (to quote) ‘ignorant armies clash by night.’ Benjamin Appl’s rich baritone voice and authoritative delivery contrasted well with the four strings who immediately established the atmosphere of calm that pervades this piece.

The concert closed with Dvorak’s String Quartet No14, full of energy and melodic charm, which the quartet brought out in their performance.

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