JOHN RAMSAY (b.1931): String Quartets No. 1 in D Minor, No. 2 in E Minor “Shackleton”, No. 3 in C and No. 4 “Charles Darwin”.
Catalogue Number: 05N062
Reference: msv 28528
Description: Ramsay’s quartets are all thoroughly tonal and instantly approachable. The First makes use of irregularly subdivided rhythmic cells such as those that propel eastern European folk music, beloved of Bartók. The lyrical second movement is a set of variations on a Scottish folksong. The ‘Shackleton’ of the Second was a friend of the composer and a distant relative of the famous explorer. He is memorialised in a restrained and formal dirge with a distant, slightly archaic feel, and a gently lamenting funeral march with heavy pizzicato steps. In between there is a more conventional slow movement with a strong modal pull to the harmony, and a lively Spanish-influenced finale that refers to biographical associations with the work’s subject. The large Third begins with extended references to Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet, and plays similar chromatic games with the music’s expected tonality. The second movement is songlike, with an undulating accompaniment; the third a sequence of scherzi in subdivided rhythmic units, and the fourth takes the tonal conflicts of the previous movements further in a dissonant polytonal argument. The finale is a fugue, the lively rhythms derived from elements of the Fibonacci series. The Fourth celebrates Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary. The work has a detailed program reflecting aspects of the Naturalist’s work and philosophical speculations, and their implications, with passages of nature imagery, increasingly complex life, religious motifs of different cultures, war, and an uncertain future, all in tonal, appealing music replete with every manner of ingenious illustrative reference or effect. 2 CDs. The Fitzwilliam String Quartet.