I knew nothing of John Ramsay, born in London in 1931, until I received this issue for review, but I hope very much to encounter more of his music, as soon as maybe. These four string quartets are relatively recent compositions, written between 2001-9, but they constitute a notable contribution to the British quartet repertoire, music by a voice unafraid to call upon what might too-easily and too-unknowingly be termed ‘traditional’ values but which is well worth getting to know.
There is nothing at all in the composition of these works that lies outside the natural writing for the instruments – or so it seems to me – and Ramsay is unafraid to quote keys in their titles: No. 1 in D minor, No. 2 in E minor (subtitled Shackleton ), No. 3 in C major (No. 4 has no key, but is subtitled Charles Darwin ). – the subtitles indicating the starting points in terms of inspiration rather than pictorial associations.
It is paradoxically both easy and difficult to describe this music: it is strongly individual, but of a compositional character that takes the attentive listener along on the individual journeys. All I can do, in this short note, is to recommend these discs very strongly to those interested in British music of the last 50 years or so, music which does not necessarily embrace at all costs the latest continental or American ‘developments’, but which is eminently worthwhile. I hope and trust that this music enjoys the wider success and appreciation that it deserves. The performances seem excellent, as is the recording quality, and the booklet notes are splendid. ***** (five stars awarded)