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David W Moore
American Record Guide, March 2010

Tippett’s music is classically organized yet emotionally questioning. It is always changing its face and giving us a new look at the material from a different standpoint. These are beautiful, somewhat elusive quartets.

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Paul Ingram
Fanfare, March 2010

 The Tippett Quartet completes its new survey with this second bargain CD, and it’s remarkably good. You should own this, if you like the music of the last century.

The Fifth Quartet is not yet 20 years old, but like the Third from 1946, it looks back to Beethoven, and says: “Let’s see if we can match that!” The long, slow closing movement of the Fifth also hints at the valedictory mood of the Britten Third, along with some of the quieter ecstasy contained in The Midsummer Marriage. Tippett’s works rarely lack the jazzy reminder that life is worth living, whatever comes, and the Fifth invokes nightingales as well as Beethoven to make that point once more. Last year, I was writing on Tippett under all kinds of dark and cold stresses and strains, but the music saw me through with unshakeable optimism. It does the same trick here, and the Fifth is a neglected, quirky masterwork.

The Third is slightly longer, at 31 minutes, five movements in a Bartókian arch. The finale starts out decorous, but winds up magnificent. There, as in all the movements, the Tippett Quartet balances detail, tight rhythm, and emotional response without losing tonal focus or the long structural view. The central Allegro molto may give you the best idea of the character of the performances: accurate, tough, sensitive.

Tippett wrote high string lines that are sometimes wilfully hard to play right, and sometimes they sound that way. The Tippetts don’t short-change us by playing safe, and while we need far more performances from other groups, on Naxos we do get a real sense of the transcendent. Try the Lento of the Third Quartet to hear high-lying passions that are not uncontained, but which feel true to life. Life enhancing, in fact. Just buy it.

Gavin Dixon
MusicWeb International, January 2010

Their performances here do justice to Tippett’s imaginative and diverse soundworld. Fans of the composer are unlikely to need my recommendation, though I offer it nonetheless. I’d also recommend it to those curious about Tippett and who are interested in going beyond his most famous oratorio. The Third Quartet in particular is a valuable door into the more esoteric corners of his output…

Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, January 2010

The Tippett Quartet complete their survey of these important works

A span of 45 years separates Tippett’s Third and Fifth string quartets, yet in their questing lyricism and dance-driven exuberance they have a good deal in common. The difference, and the challenge for their interpreters, is in the contrast between No 3’s radical rethinking of tradition—specifically the fugal writing of the late Beethoven quartets—and No 5’s references to the kind of interplay between continuity and discontinuity more characteristic of a modernist aesthetic.

Tippett in 1946 was entering his most visionary phase but the Tippett Quartet’s approach to the Third Quartet emphasises weight and earthiness rather than the transcendent lightness of spirit that would emerge most fully in The Midsummer Marriage. There’s a sense of the piece’s formidable technical challenges being bravely confronted rather than triumphantly overcome; but this is certainly a performance full of drama and excitement, a feature enhanced by the closely focused recording.

Tippett was 85 when he began work on his Fifth Quartet in 1990, and the best music comes in a first movement whose sustained spontaneity is admirably conveyed in this performance. The Tippett Quartet can also be commended for not rushing or over-dramatising the more diffuse and repetitive second movement, even though it now seems a pity that the composer wasn’t persuaded to prune some of its more extended duplications. The Tippett Quartet’s well integrated sound is a pleasure throughout, and together with their first Tippett disc (8.570496) this completes a rewarding survey of a contribution to the quartet repertory which is in danger—undeservedly—of falling out of fashion.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

Listening to Michael Tippett rehearse one of his quartets made you realise just how important internal balance was to him, and I am sure he would have been delighted with these performances. He composed five quartets in a career that did not really begin until he was in his mid-thirties, and he was then to pass through a number of phases working within the extended boundaries of tonality. Completed in 1946 the Third is a late flowering of the quartet form set out by Beethoven and now recast into the 20th century. In five movements, the last two played without a break, it calls for a display of technical bravura in the double fugue of the central movement, though it is questions of intonation in the second and fourth movements that catch out performers. Having lived with the Fifth since its world premiere, its two long movements seem to me to distill and summerises all that had gone before. Though in texture it is the most modern sounding, I also find it the most readily memorable of the five. Within their extended length the mood often changes, and at the same time so too do the technical demands. Throughout those questions of balance have been well handled by the young and aptly named Tippett Quartet. As the years have passed, so has the standard of quartet playing improved, and that rather stressed quality of the Lindsay String Quartet’s pioneering recordings is now overtaken by a group who seek out the lyrical aspects and smooth down some of the Lindsay’s more acerbic moments. I would want both versions, as Tippett was in person the guiding hand to the Lindsay, but this new cycle is better recorded and I would unhesitatingly add it to my library.

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