William Alwyn quartets show early influences

British composer William Alwyn was just in his twenties when he wrote the quartets on this release. And he was just getting warmed up. Still ahead were over 70 film scores, ten more string quartet quartets, plus symphonies, operas, concertos, and more.

The quartets here reflect the influence of Alwyn’s studies with John Blackwood McEwen. McEwen’s generation blended Brahms’ Romantic classicism with British folk harmonies and melodic gestures (or in McEwen’s case, Scottish).

Alwyn is no Ralph Vaughan Williams, though. His harmonies aren’t so clearly modal, nor do his melodies sound overtly British.

Rather, these quartets seem to use McEwen’s style as a foundation to build on, burying it deep under Alwyn’s own music.

The release also includes Seven Irish Tunes for String Quartet. Here McEwen’s influence is clearer. Alwyn’s settings also presage his work in films. These pieces are very atmospheric.

In this phase of his career, Alwyn’s string quartet writing is somewhat austere, with harmonies often obliquely outlined rather than filled out with four-part harmonies.

The Villiers Quartet, as recorded here, has a clean, natural ensemble sound. There’s a slight edge to the violins, but I think that just gives these works a little extra energy.

William Alwyn: Early String Quartets
String Quartet Nos. 6-9
Villiers Quartet
Lyrita SRCD 386

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