- Pairings I, for violin & cello
- Pairings II, for 2 violas
- Pairings III, for violin & viola
- String Quartet No. 1 "Fantasia on Sheffield"
Renowned as the gifted violist of the Lindsay Quartet, but increasingly known as an arranger and composer of skill and imagination, Robin Ireland began writing music in 1987, naturally enough for his own instrument and for those around him. His works on this 2005 disc from Meridian demonstrate not only a thorough understanding of string instruments, but also an innate awareness of what works in large formal designs and short, succinct expressions. His three collections of duets -- "Pairings I for violin and cello" (2000), "Pairings II for two violas" (2002), and "Pairings III for violin and viola" (2003) -- arose from Ireland's early efforts at composition, where he examined the finer points of repartee in miniature pieces for two players, instead of pursuing more ambitious projects, such as a full-blown string quartet. The attention to detail in these studies is admirable, and Ireland's music is focused in content, concentrated in development, and surprisingly free of clichés and rhetoric. There are few moments of dullness in these highly varied sets, though Ireland's occasionally archaic counterpoint and modal leanings wear a little thin in spots, and his soft, ambiguous harmonies could use a few resolute cadences for clearer definition. The "Quartet No. 1: Fantasia on Sheffield" (2005) is decidedly the most ambitious work here, yet it also seems effortless in its conversational freshness and witty in its numerous references to the string quartet literature. Even so, Ireland's light tone and occasional joking should not give an impression of frivolity, because there are passages of serious argumentation in each movement, and the piece's moods are reminiscent at times of Shostakovich's irony, with a little of Bartók's acidity for good measure. Still, some listeners will feel that this quartet is too self-consciously imitative and immature, and regard it as less successful than the "Pairings," where Ireland accomplishes more with less. The Lindsays give their colleague fine performances of these pieces, though the "Quartet No. 1" is live, and seems played too broadly for applause in the final movement. Meridian's sound quality is warm, vibrant, and naturally resonant.