PETER DICKINSON (b.1934): Violin Sonata, String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2, Tranquillo for Violin and Piano, Lullaby from The Unicorns for Violin and Piano, for Solo Violin: Air, Metamorphosis, Fantasia, Quintet Melody.

Catalogue Number: 02V062

Label: Toccata Classics

Reference: TOCC 0538

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: The First Quartet (1958) and the Violin Sonata (1961) come from the beginning and end of the composer’s American period while he was studying at Juilliard, working in New York and New Jersey, and apparently trying to work out what kind of modernist he wanted to be. The composer dismissively tells us that some New York critics at the time found the quartet 'aggressively modern'. His evident irritation is understandable, as it is clearly nothing of the sort. It has its share of dissonance, and some unusual timbres and glissandi here and there, but mostly it’s a taut, but entirely approachable little thing. A argumentative first movement is followed by an uneasily lyrical second and a scurrying, misterioso finale on ghostly, scurrying sotto voce fragments of earlier material, which coalesce into an agitated climax and promptly evaporate. The Sonata opens with a strident dispute between the instruments in a loosely serial sonata-like structure. The second movement is quite straightforward and tonal, but hides the fact that its slow, lyrical melody is 'Greensleeves' behind drastic octave displacements. The finale is fast and aggressive, ending with a frantic fugato. The Second Quartet (1976) is more typical of the composer’s wildly inventive polyglot mature style. A tape part of the composer playing fragments of a discarded student-composed rag (which he later resurrected as a work in its own right) as though trying to remember it, juxtaposed with the quartet playing a vastly slowed-down version of the same material, which takes on a completely different character. The piano finally ‘remembers' the whole piece, and both it and the quartet give an enthusiastic rendition of it - unfortunately entirely out of synchronization. Tranquillo recasts an episode from Dickinson's Violin Concerto (12Q056) in memory of violinist Ralph Holmes, which combines Beethoven and the style of a sentimental 1930’s song. The violin Fantasia, another New York piece, is a virtuoso showpiece that flings itself around over wide leaps in register, while the other violin works are melodic and tuneful, especially the lovely aria from an unfinished opera. Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin), Roderick Chadwick (piano), Kreutzer Quartet.


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