When George Vass asked me what I would like to write as a commission for the 2017 Presteigne Festival, I almost immediately responded with ‘a new string quartet’! Having written my First Quartet only as recently as 2015 it may seem a bit strange that I wanted to write another so soon, but the truth is that I had contracted the bug, despite all the challenges that this most difficult of genres present.
Whilst my first quartet (performed at Presteigne in 2015) is a substantial three movement, highly dramatic work, my new quartet is much shorter, structurally compact, and more lyrical in nature. Although it is in one continuous movement there are five distinct sections: Quasi una Siciliana, Alla marcia, Come prima (Appassionata), Alla scherzo, and Siciliana.
The serenity of the opening and closing music is balanced by two faster and more disruptive sections, where tension is increased both harmonically and contrapuntally. However, the emotional heart of the quartet lies in its middle section, where the opening material returns and is developed, reaching a powerful and passionate climax. The final Siciliana is the resolution the music has been waiting for – a simple melodic utterance in modal G major – eventually subsiding into a codetta with upward glissandi harmonics, before fading into the silence from whence the music first began its journey.
The world premiere of Edward Gregson’s String Quartet no 2 was at the concert at St Andrew’s. This compact, highly concentrated piece is divided into five discrete sections, including a march and a scherzo. The piece is bookended by a gentle Siciliana that lingers in the mind and fuels the intervening episodes. This considered and carefully calibrated score packed in a lot of incident yet never seemed cluttered or strained. The Nightingale Quartet was alert to every nuance of Gregson’s writing, rewarding each phrase with velvety playing of rare luxuriance.
Paul Conway, Musical Opinion (October 2017)
The String Quartet No. 2 is remarkably satisfying.
John France, MusicWeb International (May 2022)