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Sheet Music Review

Lowri Blake

November/December 2006

Aphrodite’s Rock
String Quartet

Stephen Pratt
score and parts
HH Edition (hhl26.fsp), £20.00

Crete, Chatignac, Cyprus – a colourful compositional trail, that finished up in Liverpool with the completion of Aphrodite’s Rock, a string quartet by Stephen Pratt. Composed for the Chilingirian Quartet, this short, one-movement work was first performed in November 2001 and has recently been published by HH Edition. inspired by the sounds and scenery of his various retreats, Stephen Pratt, professor of music at Liverpool Hope University, has sought to encapsulate some of the characteristics of the very different terrains he encountered. He writes: ‘The present piece was begun in Crete. An earlier work relates in part to the physical landscape of the Charente and I began Aphrodite’s Rock with a similar starting point, but this time also trying to capture some of the extraordinary sounds of the village where we were staying. Coming to Cyprus in the summer of 2001, there was some dramatic coastal scenery to inspire shapes and patterns to add to the earlier ideas, especially the gentle swirling waters around Aphrodite’s Rock and the ever-present evening chorus of insects and birds.’

This pithy quartet is skilfully crafted and expressively conceived. The work opens briskly with chords built upon a series of fifths presented with violent dynamic contrasts. These dissonant chords reappear at various points, creating homophonic areas which contrast with the more linear and contrapuntal music of the slower central section. The tempo shifts subtly through craggy, angular writing that recalls the composer’s inspirations somewhat abstractly, though very effectively. It concludes with scurrying scales loosely constructed from alternating tone/semitone steps (a pattern used more expressively earlier on), and then subsides into a dusky shimmer overlaid with birdsong that fades gently into the stillness.

Aphrodite’s Rock is a welcome addition to the string chamber music repertoire. Stephen Pratt’s succinct style is a challenge to the ear – I say that positively rather than negatively: he makes you want to listen to his music, with its strong rhythmic impulses and stark contrasts. Short enough to programme easily in any recital context, at only ten minutes long, I would like to hear the quartet as an opener to a chamber recital, and then hear it performed for a second time later in the programme, perhaps after a more familiar, larger work. While Aphrodite’s Rock is not complex, it’s tricky to play and would really only tempt advanced students and professional players, The music is elegantly presented in an attractive edition. Fold-out pages in the parts would have been useful to avoid desperate page-turning in the very brisk final section, and what a pity to misspell the title on the inside page of the score in an otherwise excellent package: positive music and fine printing. It’s not cheap at £20 for a fairly short work, but well worth having.

Relatively small, with a distinguished editing team, HH Edition publishes predominantly baroque and early classical music, ranging from Dowland to Boccherini, alongside a cluster of contemporary composers.

Lowri Blake

We are grateful to the proprietor of Sheet Music Review for permission to reproduce this review.
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