Friday 17 January 2014

Into the Ravine

Into the Ravine - SIGCD350
Into the Ravine: Nicholas Daniel and the Carducci String Quartet; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Well wrought new music for oboe and string quartet, originally premiered at the Presteigne Festival.

This new disc on Signum Classics from the Carducci String Quartet and Nicholas Daniel puts Michael Berkeley's new work for oboe and string quartet, Oboe Quintet (Into the Ravine), with quartets by John McCabe and Adrian Williams. McCabe's String Quartet No. 7 (Summer Eves) and Williams' String Quartet No.4. All three works are linked by having been premiered at the Presteigne Festival.

Berkeley's Into the Ravine was commissioned specifically for Nicholas Daniel and the Carducci String Quartet. Berkeley's inspiration came from paintings by John Craxton and Mark Rothko. The quintet's subtitle Into the Ravine refers to a picture by John Craxton which was given to Berkeley's father, Lennox Berkeley, in return for the composition of a new oboe sonatina for Janet Craxton. Michael Berkeley's work, in a single movement, was a co-commission from the 2012 Presteigne Festival.

The work opens with a three note motto theme on the oboe; each time the oboe plays the theme the string quartet responds. This eerie, evocative opening develops into something rather serenade like, with lovely transparent textures. As the piece develops, the feeling of intensity and drama increases. There is very much a sense of dialogue between the oboe and the other instruments, this certainly is not the sort of piece which masquerades as a mini-concerto.

There is rather an English feel to the instrumental writing, which would come over I think even if you did not know the composer's background. The performances from Daniel and the Carducci String Quartet are exemplary. This is a fascinating and lovely work.

John McCabe's String Quartet No. 7 (Summer Eves) was written for the Carducci Quartet. It is a five-movement work with two scherzos. The work was commissioned from the Presteigne Festival for the festival's 30th anniversary and is dedicated both to the festival and to the Carducci Quartet. McCabe has used a deliberately classical form for the movements, aiming to emulate the spirit of Haydn's delight in the medium.

The first movement, Allegro sanguino, is full of lively closely argued counterpoint with some delightful melodic hints and moments of drama. There are some Tippett-esque moments in the way lyricism, rhythmic interest and harmony combine in a rather particular way. The first scherzo, is again lively and full of rhythmic felicity. It is given a vividly engrossing performance by the quartet. The second scherzo, marked Perpetuum Mobile - Wild und rasch is vibrant, incisive and dynamic with a constant feeling of pressing forward until, at the end everything evaporates; a complete delight. The Adagio opens with quiet sustained chords contrasted with an insistent motto. From this develops a deep and intense movement. The finale, Allegro moderato e flessibile has a lovely flexible melody over a flowing accompaniment. The movement is a rondo in form, but gradually develops in drama before evaporating at the end.

Adrian Williams' String Quartet No. 4 was premiered at the Presteigne Festival in 2009. The first movement, Moderato flessibile, vivace opens with a dramatic unison, from this develops the whole movement with an increasing sense of drama. The second movement Lento et calmo is a lovely calm movement, full of well made polyphony and thoughtful textures. A beautifully intense movement which is the emotional heart of the quartet. Finally a movement marked Allegro Moderato, allegro molto which is full of lively brilliance, drama and impetuosity.

All three works receive finely crafted performance from Nicholas Daniel and from the Carducci Quartet. In none of the works do you detect the slightest hint that these are first recordings, that the music is anything but deeply under the skin of the performers. This is an intelligent, well-wrought programme and I enjoyed all three works, but it will be to Berkeley's Oboe Quintet that I will return the most, certainly a highly valuable addition to the repertoire.

Michael Berkeley (born 1948) - Oboe Quintet (Into the Ravine) [18.14]
John McCabe (born 1939) - String Quartet No. 7 (Summer Eves) [21.14]
Adrian Williams (born 1956) - String Quartet No. 4 [21.31]
Carducci String Quartet
Nicholas Daniel (oboe)
Recorded in St Michael's Church, Summertown, Oxford, 7-9 June 2013

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