Dutton CDBP 9762, 72:09 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:
A most unusual collection of British talent, this disc features the dry, clean-cut sound of the Griller Quartet in four works that span 1918-1932, the years just after World War I to a few years prior to World War II. The Bax G Major Quartet (1918) sports an Irish brogue throughout, with hearty dance impulses and a tender Lento e molto espressivo. Recorded 17 & 25 April 1941, the music has both a festive and elegiac quality. Like Yeats, Bax was deeply affected by the Easter Uprising in Ireland. The last movement moves from the heavy dirge to a spirited rendition of The Fair Hills of Ireland, quite folksy.
The three remaining inscriptions come from 18 April 1933 to 3 May 1933, the result of chamber music competitions sponsored by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, in which the winners would receive recordings by the premier ensemble of the day, The Griller. The winner of the competition was Edrich Cundell, who became Director of the Guildhall School of Music. The piece opens with a virile, jaunty motif, and it has a kind of modal, askew lyric impulse. The second movement proceeds with sad chromatics, the middle section bearing an eerie sort of waltz aura. The 3/8 Scherzo has a light, fairy touch, but less innocent than Mendelssohn. The Finale projects two moods, a fugato opening of learned intensity; then, an Allegro con brio based on two singing themes and a hint of Ravel that feature some deft adjustments from the ensemble.
Armstrong Gibbs won Third Prize at the competition with his (seventh) string quartet, which opens slowly in all three movements. The writing is wiry and airy, the dark material yielding to a dance like episode, then an expressively pensive mood. The middle movement is highly sectionalized, with nine marked tempo shifts. The textures prove as mercurial as the moods, soli alternating with paired instruments. The dance motif in the center of the movement is a reel that transfers its energy to the cello. The Finale begins Andante in the viola then proceeds to a lithe angular fugue, colored by familiarity with Beethoven.
Second Prize was awarded Elizabeth Maconchy’s Oboe Quintet, which might owe debts to Warlock’s The Curlew, but Debussian color seems more an influence. The weaving oboe line has an Eastern tenor – touches of the orient. Without a break, we enter the exotic world of the Poco sostenuto, where violin and oboe, then viola, intertwine and invoke aural mists. A touch of Tristan in the oboe part? Suddenly a natural folk dance emerges for the last movement Allegro non troppo, the French Impressionists importuning their syntax on the gentle, countrified figures.
— Gary Lemco