Composers of Wales

Composers of Wales is a new quarterly journal to which I have become a contributor. It is only available in print form.

Issue 1 November 2012

CD REVIEW: Mavron Quartet – 10th Anniversary Commissions (Gareth Wood String Quartet No. 1, Rhian Samuels Quartet: Threaded Light on Ty Cerdd label)

(This is a slightly longer version of the review that appeared in the journal.)

‘The Mavron Quartet’s 10th Anniversary Commisions’ CD, just released, presents two works by Welsh composers: Gareth Wood’s String Quartet No. 1 and Rhian Samuel’s Threaded Light. It is an engaging disk that serves as an excellent introduction to these distinct musical personalities.

By writing a self-deprecatingly terse sleeve-note to his String Quartet no. 1, Gareth Wood has clearly decided to let the music speak for itself. This is no bad thing since it is a tautly written work that is brimming with energy and ideas. The piece is cast in a familiar classical four-movement structure: Allegro–Presto–Molto Adagio–Allegro. Whilst Wood describes it as rhapsodic, the opening movement is carefully and coherently organised; the opening themes, presented with Shostakovich-like energy and aggression, are manipulated skilfully throughout. The short second movement serves as a short link to an adagio whose broken-off searching statements eventually find resolution in passages of radiant beauty. The attractively catchy rhythmic idea that opens the final movement comes to dominate, though a recollection of both the scherzo and the opening theme of the first movement helps to complete the overall sense of coherence.

Rhian Samuel’s Threaded Light adopts a less traditional structural approach, more reminiscent, perhaps, of the cycles of movements in Le Marteau san maître, even if the musical language, whilst hardly anodyne, is far removed from it. Cast in seven short movements, numbers 1, 4 and 7 are entitled Twine 1, 2 and 3 and effectively explore the idea of a thread being ‘broken, unbroken and stretched’. The other movements are more pictorial, consisting of vivid descriptions of various forms of light. Movements 3 and 5, however, also form a cycle of their own with the addition of a drum to the ensemble. The risk Samuel takes in embracing such variety pays dividends–it helps her to maintain interest, but she manages to do this whilst avoiding structural incoherence. This is achieved partly through the symmetrical placement of the movements but also by allowing the ‘threading’ material to exert an influence throughout.

Overall, therefore, a disk that is warmly recommended, both for aficionados and initiates alike, especially as the musical language in both works is accessible without condescending. The recording serves, furthermore, as an excellent reminder of the work done by the Mavrons on behalf of living Welsh composers. What better way to celebrate a tenth birthday than by commissioning new music, and what better way of promoting it than through the authoritative and committed playing that is everywhere present here?