String Quartet No.4[audio:https://johnpickard.co.uk/jp_audio/quartet_no4.mp3]
Sorrel Quartet (Dutton Epoch CDLX 7117)
By kind permission of Dutton Vocalion
Shortly after the composition of my Third Quartet, it was taken up by the Sorrel Quartet, who gave several superb performances. After one of them, at Hoylake near Liverpool, Mary and Ralph Yardley approached me with the idea of commissioning a new work especially for the Sorrel Quartet. This was fortunate, as I had already secretly started writing one for them anyway! The piece was finished in April 1998 and was first performed by the Sorrel Quartet in their tenth anniversary concert at the Wigmore Hall, London on June19th 1998.
The work has three movements, the subtitle of each referring to a musical form from the Baroque. The musical substance, however, casts the net of allusion much wider, taking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the twentieth.
The first movement, Sinfonia, refers to the instrumental overtures which regularly preceded dramatic works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It consists of a stately introduction followed by a fast and energetic movement.
The second movement comprises four Concerti, one for each player and each lasting less than two minutes. The first three are for viola (an ironic waltz), second violin (a miniature Italian Concerto) and cello (an intense recitative). In each concerto, the first violin makes repeated attempts to take over from whoever happens to be in the spotlight and eventually succeeds in dislodging the cello from its impassioned soliloquy. With the fourth concerto, a mad gallop, the first violin finally has a chance to dominate, but it proves harder to keep the other three players in check than might have been expected and the movement eventually falls apart. This movement, a set of impudent character sketches of its dedicatees, willfully sets about breaking the rules about “effects” that I outlined earlier.
Fantasia of Four Parts, the final movement takes its title from the string fantasias of English composers such as Gibbons and Purcell. These were polyphonic works, often moving through a range of different, but related, tempi. In this case the tempi chart a gradual acceleration from very slow to very fast, so that the overall effect is one of progression from serene calm to wild energy.
The Fourth Quartet is dedicated to the Sorrel Quartet with admiration and affection.
John Pickard 2002