On the 25th November the Villiers Quartet performed a wonderful programme of string quartets by Delius, Fauré, and Elgar, alongside the original ‘Late Swallows’ slow movement of the Delius quartet. The event marked the start of the Villiers’ three-year residency at the Music Faculty of the University of Oxford. Professor Daniel Grimley began the evening with a pre-concert talk that situated all three quartets within their historical context of musical upheaval, trauma, and war. All three composers were creating their works at a time when Schoenberg and Bartók were redefining the genre. The Fauré E minor quartet (1924) is a late work completed after World War One, full of subdued intensity and intimacy. Both the Elgar (1917) and Delius (1916-17) quartets were composed in rural seclusion, but in full proximity to war. While Elgar could hear the guns on the Western Front from ‘Brinkwells’, the cottage in Sussex in which he composed a selection of important late works, Delius had returned to his house in Grez following his forced migration from the approach of the German army at the start of the war.
The Villiers Quartet brought out the collective character of mourning and intimacy in the works, as well as their individual differences, superbly. In the Delius and Elgar quartets in particular, the range and subtlety of expression in each work was evident. The original ‘Late Swallows’ movement, heard for the first time in 99 years, was haunting, while the last movement, performed at a more languid tempo than is sometimes the case, maintained the intensity of the work as a whole. The concert was a memorable opening to what promises to be an exciting collaboration between the Faculty and the Villiers Quartet.
A podcast of highlights of Professor Grimley’s talk and excerpts of the original ‘Late Swallows’ movement is available here.