David's Review Corner
, December 2009
I have never understood the neglect of Alfred Hill’s quartets, for if they carried the name of Dvořák, which they often resemble, we would hear them frequently. Australia and New Zealand lay claim to his soul, having been born in the first, spending his formative and early career years in the latter, before finally returning home. Yet Europe has the most substantial claim, for it was in Germany that he learnt his trade, and from there he extracted the influences that would dominate the whole of his extensive output. He had also been trained as a violinist and played the instrument professionally, making him acutely aware of the sounds of a string quartet for which he scored most effectively. The Fifth, subtitled The Allies, dates from 1920 and seeks to picture France, America, Italy and Britain, though there is not much to identify them in a score that falls happily on the ear. Fourteen years had elapsed before the Seventh, by which time English string music of the period had entered into his style, and in the pizzicato second movement we find a little of Ravel. I wonder if the finale should have been taken slightly faster than we hear here? Composition of the Ninth followed soon afterwards, its style and form almost identical, Hill’s ability to find agreeable melodic material never failing him. Sample the scherzo (track 11) to taste the disc as a whole. The music could hardly wish for more sympathetic and immaculately played performances, and though they may not be part of the New Zealand-based Dominion Quartet repertoire, they are much at home in the Hill style, the interplay between instruments, on which much of the music thrives, always well balanced.