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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Alfred Hill was born in Sydney but moved to New Zealand in 1872. He studied in Leipzig, laying the foundations of his technique, and returned to Wellington in 1891. From 1910 until his death, 50 years later, he lived in Sydney and composed prolifically; there are some two thousand works in all, including ten operas, thirteen symphonies and seventeen string quartets! The First Quartet was begun during his student days and its successor, ‘A Maori Legend in Four Scenes’ (1907–11), as the title suggests, draws on some Maori ideas; the Third (1912), subtitled Carnival, was subsequently expanded into his Fifth Symphony (1955). The musical language owes much to Dvoƙák and Tchaikovsky, and there is a freshness and finish that are rewarding. The Dominion Quartet in this music and make that quite evident here.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Had the name of Dvorak appeared on the title page of Alfred Hill's first string quartet, it would probably have become part of the standard repertoire, the music more worthy of repeated hearing than any of the Czech composer's early works in this genre. Australia and New Zealand now vie for a claim on the composer's musical soul, and during the first half of the 20th century he had to represent on the international scene the aspirations of both nations. Born in Australia in 1869, he had lived his formative years in New Zealand where his love of music was carefully nurtured before departing at the age of seventeen to study in Leipzig where he fell under the many influences of the Brahms, Dvorak, Strauss and Tchaikovsky. His return to New Zealand marked a residency of twenty years, before moving back to his homeland in 1910 where he was to spend his years to his death in 1960. A prolific composer, and while much of it remained unpublished, there are ten operas, thirteen symphonies and seventeen string quartets. The bulk of his highly productive life was in Australia, and though the first quartet was started in Leipzig in 1896, its first performance did not take place until 1911 in Sydney. During his years in New Zealand he had become much involved in the Maori culture, but while I acknowledge the fact that he may have used Maori melodies in his first two quartets, I find the subtitles more to do with commercial than musical reasons. In sum these are beautifully crafted scores which I commend wholeheartedly to you. Maybe lacking in Dvorak's rhythmic zest, the music is melodically highly attractive, immaculately scored and with a deep understanding of the functioning of a quartet - Hill studied the violin. At times Mendelssohn creeps in - as we hear in the scherzo to the second quartet - and there is real Brahmsian strength in the opening movement. The three quartets on the disc show a time period of sixteen years, yet Hill's style through his life was largely locked in a time warp, which to many ears will be a blessing, the Third, as the subtitle will suggest, is a happy and vital score with a particularly engaging scherzo. Performances show the Dominion Quartet - largely formed from members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - have the measure of these works. A few more edits would have helped straighten out the accuracy of intonation from their Russian leader, Yury Gezentsvey, but I do so urge you to get to know these beautiful and highly engaging quartets. I wait with eager anticipation the remaining quartets.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, June 2007

Leave it to Naxos to come up with some terrific chamber music by a composer most people in the Northern Hemisphere have never heard of. Except for the five years he was in Germany studying at the Leipzig Conservatory, Alfred Hill (1869-1960) spent all of his life in Australia, where he was born, and New Zealand. After you hear this release you'll probably have to agree that he was the most outstanding late romantic composer from down under.

This initial volume in Naxos' new survey of his string quartets (he wrote seventeen) gives us the first three. Number one contains ideas from his student days (1886-1891) and is in the traditional four movements. The middle two were replaced in 1896 with others incorporating some exotic sounding Maori folk melodies. The outer ones show the influences of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak. They contain some lovely themes that reveal Hill was a melodist of the first order. The Maori influence becomes even more pronounced in the second quartet (1907-1911), which is entitled "A Maori Legend in Four Scenes." It's quite programmatic and the composer even provided a narrative for it (see the album notes). The opening movement owes a great debt to Dvorak. The following adagio is called "The Dream" and might best be described as Maori impressionism. The agitated scherzo is notable for some ethereal ear-catching tremolando effects. The finale is a tune-swept delight that ends this fetching musical folk tale on a real high.

The third quartet (1912) certainly lives up to its name of "The Carnival." As its number would imply, this is the most advanced work here, and very much in the Central as well as Eastern European romantic mold. Again in four movements, it begins with an optimistically bustling theme very much in keeping with the first movement’s caption of "In the Streets." The andantino takes the form of a heartfelt aria predominantly for the first violin and set to another of Hill's lovely melodies. The scherzo revolves around a tune that could well be based on some English country dance. The finale kicks off with an energetic Klezmer-like melody that alternates with some appealing, slower, Slavic-sounding themes. The quartet ends enthusiastically with an intense outburst of energetic bowing from all concerned.

Incidentally, in 1955 the composer expanded this piece into what would be his fifth symphony, also known as "The Carnival" (Marco Polo- 8.223538). The Dominion Quartet of New Zealand plays up a storm in all three selections, making a strong case for Hill's music. The recorded sound is quite good assuring you an outstanding disc of discovery from down under. (P070628)






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