- String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major ("Maori")
- String Quartet No. 2 in G minor ("A Maori Legend in Four Scenes")
- String Quartet No. 3 in A minor ("The Carnival")
The American influence of Antonin Dvorák as a champion of national styles was replicated in New Zealand, where the European-trained composer Alfred Hill drew on Maori melodies in the same ways as Americans by turns tried to fit African-American, Native American, and Anglo-American folk tunes into the frameworks ready-made by the Czech composer's popular works. It's terrific that the Naxos label has been giving various national schools a new hearing, for it is in this way that insidious and invidious notions of a single arc of "progress:" will finally be put to rest. In this instance the listener will get to know a composer who is not an unsung genius but who did have the talent to apprehend Dvorák's lessons on more than one level. The opening "String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major, Maori," is an early work by Hill, composed in several stages ending in the late 1890s. Maori thematic elements -- apparently, unlike Dvorák's, actual preexisting tunes -- are precisely incorporated according to the patterns of Dvorák's popular quartets of the period: they do not constitute the main material but provide the lyrical element that the nineteenth century mind would have thought of as feminine. Hill's handling of the Maori themes is artful even if his own big themes have something of a student character. The most successful of the three quartets on the album is the second, the "String Quartet No. 2 in G minor," subtitled "A Maori Legend in Four Scenes." This work has a detailed program, reproduced in full in the short but informative booklet. The quartet is a vigorous and immensely attractive fusion of traditional chamber music forms (the four movements correspond roughly to the usual string quartet sequence) with the magical idiom of Dvorák's nature-inspired scenes, and it is joyously played by New Zealand's Dominion Quartet. The final "String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, The Carnival," written in Australia, is a less inspired work, but the disc as a whole will intrigue string quartet lovers, students of musical nationalism, and those who have caught the rising wave of interest in music of the Anglophone world.