Dante Quartet / Michael Dussek

Edmund Rubbra: String Quartets Nos.1-4

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The Sterling Quartet's 1996 Conifer recordings of the complete string quartets of English modernist Edmund Rubbra have now been joined by these 2010 Dutton recordings by the Dante Quartet. It's astonishing that there are two recordings of works as obscure as these and a pleasure that the second is even better than the first. Rubbra's quartets, like his slightly better known symphonies, are brilliantly written and deeply felt but essentially reserved, even inward works that seem at first acquaintance to be more the product of intellect than the heart, which is not a recipe for popular success. Yet Rubbra's quartets are striking works that repay repeated listening for the subtlety of their thought and refinement of sensibility. The Dante Quartet performances are manifestly superior to those of the Sterling Quartet, tighter, tougher, more in-tune, and apparently more determined to sell the music by leaning into its rich vein of expressive lyricism. The new set also includes four other works: the appealing Lyric Movement for string quartet and piano, the brooding Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn, the astounding Improvisation for unaccompanied cello, and, best of all, the monumental G minor Cello Sonata. Captured in Dutton's trademark cool yet close sound, time will tell if this set solidifies Rubbra's reputation.

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