The two string quartets here were written over 30 years apart. The Carducci Quartet premiered the Fourth Quartet in 2001, while the First had appeared in 1968. There is a meditative quality to the earlier work, despite its abundant vigour, born of its long slow soliloquies for individual instruments and its contemplative duo writing in the last movement. The players here are, as it happens, peculiarly suited to this movement, being two married couples, and they play it beautifully, clear and sweet toned, spinning out the long, weaving lines with languid grace.
They bring similar qualities to the central Adagio of the Oboe Quartet, another of Whettam’s ethereal movements. There is a wonderful translucence in the playing of its lean, spare textures. In the outer movements the oboe – working through its repertoire of special techniques, quarter tones, harmonics and all – is much the dominant instrument, splendidly played by Jennie-Lee Keetley. The Carducci brings fizz and bite to this often acerbic but attractive music.
Whettam’s Fourth Quartet is probably the finest work here, and the Carducci players seem to have the full measure of it. The playing of the grave, intense first movement is particularly captivating, but throughout the quartet the pace and flow of the music, its shifting, subtle colours, seem well-nigh perfectly caught. This is a work that deserves a place in the repertoire, but further recordings would be hard-pushed to better this one. The recorded sound is both resonant and clear.