GRAHAM WHETTAM (b.1927): String Quartets Nos. 1 & 4, Oboe Quartet No. 2 "The Bagpiper".
Catalogue Number: 01L067
Label: Carducci Classics
Reference: CSQ 5847
Description: The first quartet is a robust and muscular work in three movements, tonal and more than a little reminiscent of Bartók. The first movement is based on an Easter motet by the composer, which develops into an energetic allegro. The following high-energy scherzo is interrupted by a lyrical slow section which becomes increasingly agitated before the scherzo returns full force. The final movement was added some years after the original version was completed, but achieves a sense of conclusion of an arch-form through its references to the first movement and eloquent use of the ensemble members as soloists. The fourth quartet, from some two decades later, is a rather irascible work, still tonal but making no attempt to be comfortable listening. The vigorous scherzo, all staccato accents and brittle pizzicati, sets the tone for the entire work, while the slow movement, a passacaglia interrupted by a livelier fugue, radiates a gentle melancholy. The finale returns to the lively mood of the scherzo and the impatience of the first movement, though somewhat lighter in mood. In the early 1970s, Whettam was asked to write the oboe quartet, and to incorporate some extended playing techniques, so he duly obliged with some quarter-tone passages and the like, which sit oddly with his preferred vocabulary. The composer recounts an encounter with Ronald Stevenson and Witold Lutoslawski which led to a discussion of bagpipe scales; this resulted in the work's subtitle The Bagpiper, and the soloist's plaintive Scottish song (over a string drone!) in the lively last movement. Carducci Quartet, Jennie-Lee Keetley (oboe).