Elgar: String Quartet; Bridge: Idylls; Walton: String Quartet
CDH55218 Helios (Hyperion's budget label) Composers of World War I
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Presto
Movement 3: Lento
Movement 4: Allegro molto
The first movement has claim to be Walton’s most perfect and original sonata structure, exhibiting a cohesive variety of invention that is immensely resourceful. The cohesion is the clarity of the music, wholly exceptional in immediate post-Second World War art, yet containing a wide range of varied material that is nonetheless organic throughout. The ‘classical’ string-quartet genre caused Walton to adopt ‘classical’ forms, but in ways that are new. We have a double exposition of theme and counterpoint, of lyrical first and gritty second subjects, which is repeated; there then follows a third theme of much rhythmic flexibility, derived from the first and second subjects. The development faces classical precepts head on, nothing less than a four-part fugue on a theme derived from first and second subjects, which flows into a new development, a freer fantasia that modulates beautifully towards the recapitulation, where first and second subjects are compressed. The arrival of the third theme, largely omitted in the development, sets off an original ‘developmental recapitulation’ before the extended coda muses gently on the opening ideas, spaciously and gently arriving at A minor.
The Scherzo (Presto) is placed second, as in the First Symphony, and has a tensile brilliance in contrast to the preceding Allegro, but whose quicksilver ending almost catches us by surprise. The Lento is one of Walton’s finest slow movements—relaxed, yet powerful and hauntingly beautiful, bringing a new character to his instrumental writing. The finale is an outpouring of concentrated energy, reinforcing A minor after the balm of F major in the slow movement, and the Phrygian E (a variant of the classical dominant) of the Scherzo. Structurally it is a rondo which recalls elements from the earlier movements in its varied episodes, which are in turn engulfed in the headlong rush to the breathless final bars.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1994