on 22 October 2012
This disc, from the selective but limited range of the top ranking audio company, Naim, is most notable and worthy of purchase for its inclusion of the first string quartet of a young British composer, Philip Gates. This work takes its inspiration from the lyricism and, in Gates' words, the "powerful nostalgia" of Celtic poetry. It probably belongs more to the sound world of the early twentieth century than anything more recent. Lovers of works in this medium by the likes of Moeran, Bax, Vaughan Williams and, further afield, the quartets of Ravel and Debussy, and the early forays in the genre of Milhaud, Martinů and Ives (as well as the later ones of Dvořák), will surely respond to this music. It is primarily folk based with modal and pentatonic writing to the fore. The intensely yearning, extended central Lento impresses the most but the faster, more dance-like outer movements certainly have their moments and plenty of them.
The Gates is a remarkable work and the CD is worth its price for that alone. It does however have to be conceded that the other pieces on the disc are not necessarily first choice versions. The Bridge pieces, in particular, including the Three Idylls, the second of which gave rise to the main motif in Benjamin Britten's brilliant Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, seem better served on the bargain price but artistically excellent Maggini/Naxos disc (8.553718). Unusually, the Idylls are taken slightly more quickly by the Eberle than the Maggini but the Novelletten are played slower by comparison. Both sets are worth hearing but I feel that the Maggini has the edge in this repertoire. In either case, they represent a fairly easy introduction to Bridge's often challenging and certainly formidable chamber music. The Barber quartet is well worth hearing in its own right but has the added interest of allowing comparison of the famous Adagio for Strings with its original but less familiar setting, "framed by a fast movement and a drastically condensed reprise".
The recording is of the standard you would expect from this source and the booklet is extremely informative about the Bridge and Barber items, a little less so for Gates. It includes quotes from, among others, Benjamin Britten and Anthony Payne (Bridge's biographer). In conclusion, this is an interesting disc and an essential one for anyone who wishes that composers like Moeran had written more music for string quartet.
Biography of Philip Gates.
Born in London in 1963, Philip Gates was a music scholar at Millfield whence he gained an Open Exhibition to read music at the Queen's College, Oxford. During his time there he studied privately with Phyllis Sellick.
He has since pursued a career as a freelance musician, teaching, conducting, giving piano recitals and composing. He puts great importance on the tonal and melodic aspects of music, drawing inspiration from many different genres from folk music to jazz. His works include Danzas del Sud - a flute sonata written for Christopher Hyde-Smith and Jane Dodd - a clarinet sonata and several other works for solo instruments and piano. Crossing Jordan, a spiritual for brass band, was described by David Fanshawe after its first performance in 2002 as `original, immediately evocative and immensely effective in its scoring'.
Several of his pieces have been commercially recorded, the String Quartet in A minor by the Eberle Quartet in 1998 for the Naim Audio label and in the following year a selection of music for wind instruments and piano released by Shellwood Productions. The latter featured instrumentalists such as the alto saxophonist Roy Willox, the clarinettist Thomas Kelly and the flautists Ian Clarke and Janet Way.