Maggini Quartet / Mark Wilde

Ronald Corp: String Quartets Nos. 1 "The Bustard" & 2; Country Matters

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Ronald Corp is best known as a conductor and a composer of choral music, but he has also ventured into the fields of orchestral and chamber music. This CD features three works for string quartet, one of them a song cycle for tenor and quartet. Country Matters, a seven-song cycle that uses the poetry of Steve Mainwaring, is the earliest piece, a student work dating from 1972 and it is the least successful of the three. Mainwaring's poetry is mostly of the silly variety, which Corp's accompaniment matches in its inconsequential and not especially witty whimsicality. About half of the texts are delivered as Sprechstimme, and the settings of the texts that are sung are bland and graceless. Tenor Mark Wilde makes the most he can of the cycle. Corp's first String Quartet, from 2008, is a more substantial piece, driven by a compelling lyrical logic. Corp's musical language is characterized by a tonality similar to that of mid-20th century British post-pastoral composers. The quartet was inspired by the bustard, the world's largest flying bird, which was once native to Britain and is being reestablished there. Although the piece is not specifically programmatic, many of its themes are evocative of soaring. The Second String Quartet is more conventional and less distinctive than the first, but it should interest fans of new tonal chamber music. The Maggini Quartet plays expertly and with commitment and precision, but whether because of the engineering or the idiosyncrasies of Corp's writing for strings, the sound on this album is unforgivingly bright and not particularly warm or appealing.

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