CDE84664 Arwel Hughes

Quartets Nos. 1,2 & 3

Quartets Nos. 1,2 & 3

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Arwel Hughes String Quartets

Arwel Hughes - String Quartets Nos.1,2 & 3 AUDIO COMPACT DISC

Maggini Quartet

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Arwel Hughes String Quartets If the history of these works starts in misfortune, their luck has clearly turned in ending up in the hands of the Maggini Quartet. Not only that, Meridian have rolled out the audio red carpet in giving them uncannily present sound some of the best I have heard of any string quartet. David McDade Musicweb International August 2023

The String Quartets of Arwel Hughes

The Welsh composer Arwel Hughes (1909-88) played many different roles in what E.T.Davies the first Director of Music at Bangor University termed the new musical awakening in Wales during the 20th century. Arwel Hughes was born in Rhosllanerchrugog, North Wales, the youngest of 10 children from a coal miners family. He went to Ruabon Grammar School (founded in 1618) and was influenced by an older brother, John Hughes (1896-1968), a notable composer of hymn tunes and Editor of the Baptist Hymnal who arranged for his younger brother to have organ lessons at Chester Cathedral. Hughes won a Blumenthal scholarship to enter the Royal College of Music, London to study composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams and C.H. Kitson as well as the organ and conducting. After graduating from the RCM and becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, he was an Assistant Organist at St. Margarets Church, Westminster before moving to become organist at St Phillips and St. James Church in Oxford. In 1935, Arwel Hughes joined the staff of the new BBC Wales Music Department and used his links with the BBC Welsh Orchestra  and position as Head of Music (1965-1971) to tirelessly champion performances and broadcasts of Welsh music, including works by fellow pioneers Grace Williams (1906-77), Mansel Thomas (1909-86), Daniel Jones (1912-93), William Mathias (1934-92) and Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008).

Hughes composed two operas (Menna, 1954 and Serch ywr Doctor, 1960), a series of orchestral works, and many songs and folksong arrangements. His choral music particularly his oratorios (Dewi Sant, 1950 and Pantycelyn, 1963) has a particular appeal for performers and audiences, but there remain less well-lit genres in his output. Relatively little is known about his chamber music, and the three previously unrecorded String Quartets on this CD make a significant contribution towards filling that void. Although these Quartets were composed at different times in Hughes career, each one reveals, in a different way, his fascination with thematic interconnections, musical contrasts and musical form. Surveyed collectively, these works also suggest that Hughes may have found the string quartet to be an ideal medium for exploring new musical territory.


String Quartet no. 1 in C major (1948)

In common with the warmth of Hughes orchestral Prelude (1945) and Suite (1947), a mood of optimism and conviviality colours the first movement of his String Quartet no. 1 in C major. Marked Allegro giocoso, the playful theme in paired second violin and viola dances with a gambolling melody in the first violin, leading to heated debate in all instruments. Contrast comes in the impassioned, central Andante in C minor, where the first violins melody, now in a new guise, is pondered by the strings, but the playful spirit and tempo of the opening returns, the movement ending on a distinctly impish note.


An Andante movement (II) follows, where a lyrical viola melody, framed by the other strings, gradually undergoes a process of rhythmic intensification and acceleration. A new section (at double the speed) introduces

an exuberant, skipping theme in 6/8 time, which, after being rapidly spun through the strings, leads to a varied and condensed statement of the Andante material. Tempos and temperatures rise again with a reprise of the ebullient 6/8 theme and the movement culminates in a blaze of fortissimo octaves in G major.


The opening of the Allegro giocoso finale (III) recalls the jovial, playful tone and string pairings of the first movement. Although the opening themes of these two giocoso movements sound different, a clear kinship exists, which suggests a desire for greater structural integration by the composer. A broader, lyrical theme, first stated in viola, becomes the focus of a central Lento section, and the high-spirited recapitulation brings the piece to an end on a firm punch in C major.


String Quartet no. 2 (1976)

Some 28 years separate the composition of Hughes First and Second String Quartets, and it is clear that the composer had travelled some musical distance in these years. Touchingly dedicated to his wife, Enid, his String Quartet no. 2 was commissioned by Alun Hoddinotts 1976 Cardiff Festival of 20th- Century Music, and possesses more chromatic bite than its younger predecessor.

Most of the themes in the first movement can be traced to the ideas heard in the Lento Moderato introduction, where the first violins yearning melody, highlighting intervals of a semitone, minor 3rd and tritone, is answered by a quick, spry retort in the cello. These ideas are developed in the Allegro section, Hughes introducing a number of different thematic variants, rhythms and string colours (pizzicato) to the vigorous musical argument. A moment of contemplation comes in the Lento section, where the opening ideas are contemplated in a new light, but we are soon caught up in the excitement of the Allegro that ends the movement.

The playful side of Hughes musical personality again comes to the fore in the Allegro giocoso movement (II), which opens with a teasing melody, encompassing chromatic and wider intervals, in the first violin. While the strings often impassioned debate give rise to several melodic and rhythmic variants, one never completely loses sight of the original melody in this clever, genial movement. In contrast, the Adagio (III) is a movement of dramatic gestures and fervent thrust. The lyrical cello melody heard in the opening bars is extended, leading to a series of mysterious pulsing string chords, built from semitones. The music becomes increasingly fiery as the argument unfolds, but the movement ends quietly with an echo of its opening.


Hughes employs cyclic form in his witty Presto finale (IV), gathering together important musical ideas encountered thus far. The brisk theme in octaves in the opening bars is, for instance, a compressed and transformed statement of the Adagio (III) cello melody, and themes and ideas from the Quartets other movements are ingeniously woven into this most exhilarating of finales.


String Quartet no. 3 (1984)

Given Hughes clear fascination with intervallic shapes, thematic transformations and clarity of structure in his quartets, it seems natural that he should want to explore aspects of 12-note technique in his music. Although he avoids strict use of the 12-note method in his String Quartet no. 3, elements drawn from the technique are used to brilliant effect. The first movement opens with a melody in octave strings comprised of all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, and this melody is immediately restated by the cello with a charming countermelody in the viola. In the ensuing Allegro and Lento sections, melody and countermelody are varied, appearing in a dazzling series of new rhythmic and melodic guises, but the movement closes with a partial statement of the opening melody.


The impassioned mood of the opening of the Andante (II) perhaps conceals the true relationship between the first and second movements themes. Indeed, the link is an intimate one given that the soulful violin melody heard here is an exact reverse statement, note-for-note, of the first movements melody. Several different forms of this retrograde melody appear in the contrasting Andante and Allegro sections of the movement, with vibrantrhythmic and textural contrasts being added as the musical argument evolves.


The Quartets melody is also the central to the Presto finale (III), a movement which contains some of the works boldest contrasts. The serenity of the brief, opening Andante moderato is cut short by the boisterousness of the brisker Allegro con brio section, and both lead to a solemn, hymn-like statement of the first movements full melody. The contest between Andante and Allegro sections is extended, but the Quartets melody is never far away from the surface. Indeed, Hughes musical ingenuity and inventiveness is to be admired particularly when you realise that every single theme in this Quartet has sprung from the same source.

Rhiannon Mathias

Quartets Nos. 1,2 & 3