No.4 in C minor (1905)
No.7 in E flat Threnody (1916)
No.16 in G Quartette provençale (1936)
No.17 in C sharp minor Fantasia (1947)
Chilingirian Quartet [Levon Chilingirian & Charles Sewart (violins); Asdis Valdimarsdottir (viola) & Philip de Groote (cello)]
Recorded 19 & 20 February and 9 & 10 November 2001, Snape Maltings Concert Hall
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 9926 Duration: Reviewed: November 2002
McEwen String Quartets, Vol. 1 Chandos
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
I picture a claymore-swinging, kilt-clad Highlander. In reality, Sir John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) gravitated from Glasgow University to Londons Royal Academy (including twelve years as Principal). He also spent time in France, near Bordeaux, where Impressionism seeped through his musical pores to mix with his native culture.
This is not the first time that Chandos has looked at McEwens output there are four previous releases of instrumental and orchestral pieces but it is the first time that this writer has been smitten. This, the first volume of all McEwens string quartets (there are nineteen), really does make an impact. The French part of his creativity infuses Quartette provençale a delightfully rustic piece that reminds of Milhaud, with a hint of Bartók, its heart being an intimate slow movement that beautifully suggests the French countryside at night Summer Evening with cello drones perhaps masquerading as a lone bagpipe. No.7, from 1916, is an elegy for wartime, not a threnody that is burdened or dour, rather one that laments in resigned terms. Its very affecting.
The Fourth Quartet is an amalgam of Beethoven, the fantasy of Schumann and the rich panoply of César Franck. Its a lovely work of aching lyricism try the Scottish slow movement and high spirits, which has a distinctive flavour all its own and is a very pleasurable discovery. McEwen didnt number his first two quartets, so No.17 is the final one. That McEwen hadnt moved on stylistically he remains late nineteenth-century doesnt matter. This quartet is, as so many last works seem to be, a distillation of the composers style not a note is wasted, whether in reflection or in folk-style. Early Bartók remains a strong ally.
The performances are wonderfully committed and excellently recorded. The beginning of an important series.