Himself a string player and dedicated chamber musician, Benjamin Britten wrote a large amount of music for string quartet as a student and budding composer. One such early work is Alla marcia, originally intended as a part of a suite but then left as a stand-alone miniature unpublished in the composer's lifetime. This parodistic march resurfaced in 1939, however, in Britten’s setting of Rimbaud’s sardonic poem Parade in Les illuminations for soprano and string orchestra. On this second disc of the Emperor Quartet’s survey of Britten’s music for string quartet, Alla marcia appears as an interlude between the first and the last of Britten's three published string quartets. String Quartet No.1 in D major Op.25 was composed in the summer of 1941, and it is easy to read into it something of Britten’s feverish state of mind at the time – although he was living in the USA at the time, news from the war in Europe was deeply troubling and Britten was already contemplating his return to England, even though his pacifist stance was certain to cause him problems there. Four years later the Op.25 quartet was followed by String Quartet No.2, written in response to the 250th anniversary of Henry Purcell’s death, but after that three decades would pass before Britten's return to the genre. Completed in December 1975, String Quartet No.3 Op.94 became one of his last, as well as one of his finest compositions. With a structure reminiscent of the lyric suites by Alban Berg and other Viennese composers, the five-movement work ends with a Recitative and Passacaglia subtitled La Serenissima as a salute to Britten's beloved Venice. The first disc in this series of three was released in 2010, and included a performance of the Second String Quartet described as 'stupendous' in Classic FM Magazine and 'magnificent' in Scherzo, while the reviewer in Fono Forum likened it to 'an entire cosmos of colours and nuances'.
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