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Hyperion Records

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Red Hot Suffolk Winter by Mita Higton
Track(s) taken from CDA68004
Recording details: February 2013
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Tim Oldham
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: November 2013
Total duration: 24 minutes 11 seconds

'This beautifully recorded set couples raw intensity with subtle refinement … for a recording of all three Britten String Quartets, this release is highly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A superb recording … the Takács make the changes of mood in the first quartet equally convincing: the rapt intertwining of the opening bars unfold with wonderful clarity, to contrast with the robust rhythmic drive that follows, so that the music is constantly realigning itself, never settling into a single mood. If they do not solve all the puzzles of these three works, which contain such contradictory elements that it is never easy to say what they are 'about', the quartet offer the best possible guide to the music's beauty and complexity, giving listeners all they need to come to their own conclusions' (The Guardian)

'An invigorating recording from one of the world's most distinguished ensembles … it will be hard-pushed to match the playing of the Takács Quartet on this splendid album' (International Record Review)

'The players attack each quartet with their customary passion, panache and individuality, bringing aching phrasings and tantalising flickers of gypsy fire' (The Times)

String Quartet No 1 in D major, Op 25
1941; commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge; first performed in Los Angeles in September 1941

Andante calmo  [8'50]
Molto vivace  [3'56]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In July 1941, while still in the States, Britten received a $400 commission from an American patroness, Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, which presented him with the opportunity to compose his ‘official’ String Quartet No 1. Mrs Coolidge was a passionate devotee of the genre, and had already commissioned Bartók’s Fifth Quartet (1934) and Schoenberg’s Fourth (1936). Britten’s contribution was composed in the humble surroundings of a tool shed located in the garden of Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, the British husband-and-wife piano duo who were his hosts during a stay in California. The finished quartet was first performed in September 1941 in Los Angeles, and earned its composer the Library of Congress Coolidge Medal for Eminent Services to Chamber Music. It is evident from Britten’s correspondence that his attitude to the commission was somewhat ambivalent. To his friend Elizabeth Mayer he confessed that the project would be ‘a bit of a sweat to do it so quickly, but I’ll do it as the cash will be useful!’, and to his older brother Robert he reported:

I’m to be presented with a gold medal at the Library of Congress in Washington in October, by Mrs Sprague Coolidge (the rich patroness of music, friend of Frank Bridge) for services to chamber music! Gettin’ quite distinguished arn’t I? But it doesn’t mean any money, unless I sell the medal, which wouldn’t be quite quite. Still the old girl has just bought a String Quartet off me for quite a sum, which will keep the wolf away for a bit, so I can’t complain.

More seriously, however, Britten told his benefactress that he rated the quartet as ‘my best piece so far’, and the Times critic wrote after its first English performance by the Griller Quartet in April 1943: ‘It looks as though he has begun to advance from his easy accomplishment into some new phase of development in his thought which will be watched with interest.’ The reviewer went on to describe the musical idiom as ‘unconventional’ and ‘experimental’ with its ‘harshly contrasted elements’, referring to the juxtapositions of passages in slow and quick tempos in the first movement inspired by Beethoven’s B flat major Quartet, Op 130. The ethereal diatonic opening to the work suggests the strong influence of neoclassical Stravinsky, as distinctively modified by the music of Copland, by whom Britten was befriended at the time of composition.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013

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