ALFRED HILL – String Quartets Vol.2
Quartet No. 4 in C Minor / No.6* in G Major “The Kids” / No.8 in A Major
Dominion Quartet (Yury Gezentsvey, Rosemary Harris, violins / Donald Maurice, viola / David Chickering, ‘cello) *in Quartet No.6 the second violinist is David Pucher
Put on Track 10 of this new Naxos CD for an irresistibly foot-tapping introduction to the three quartets by Alfred Hill you’ll find here, in characterful readings by the Dominion String Quartet. Hill was Australasia’s first “recognized” composer – though born in Melbourne, his formative years were spent in New Zealand, after which he studied in Leipzig, becoming steeped in the music of Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.
The first volume of Hill’s Quartets on Naxos (8.570491) show these European and nationalistic influences, whereas the works on this new CD find him gradually evolving a more austere and distinctive style. Like composers of an earlier era Hill thought nothing of “borrowing” his own music for different works; and so part of the first quartet on this CD, No.4 in C Minor, was reworked as a Symphony in C Minor, entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness”. It’s all beautifully written for the quartet medium – a lovely “sighing” opening, leading into an invigorating allegro, then followed by three equally distinctive movements, the highlight of which is probably the slow movement, with its Elgarian overtones. Quartet No.6 in G Major is engagingly subtitled “The Kids” – the slight gaucherie of the title belies the work’s structural strengths and attractive lyricism (the music is dedicated to Hill’s students at the New South Wales Conservatorium, where the composer was Professor of Composition). Particularly memorable are the Beethoven-like rhythmic patternings of the scherzo’s introduction and (again) a slow movement whose lyrical intensities highlight the child-like naivety of the music’s return to its source of inspiration in the finale.
String Quartet No.8 in A Major shows Hill’s most adventurous compositional undertakings to date, the opening movement redolent of Debussy’s more “impressionist” colourings, but at the same time energizing the music’s structures with folk-like exuberances. After the thoroughly engaging scherzo (referred to at the beginning) comes a slow movement whose whole-tone hamonies and chromatic accompaniments are of breath-catching quality.
The finale recycles the work’s opening, before removing the listener’s sensibilities from such stringencies, introducing an extended melody across different time- signatures and even working a fugue into the development, before drawing all the strands together nicely in a properly festive finish. Throughout, the Dominion Quartet plays like a group with a mission, and they deliver the goods triumphantly, aided by a mellifluous and truthful-sounding recording.