As we’d expect from a seasoned musician, Ramsay’s quartets reveal a deep understanding of and admiration for the genre’s giants. No. 1 ‘s proportions and design neatly equate with Haydn, though the vocabulary mixes Bartók and Shostakovich. I also hear the vigorous melodic shapes I associate with Nyman, even though I’m sure Ramsay would prefer to keep minimalism and even modernism at arm’s length. The slow movement offers variations on Marie Bhodheach , a Gaelic song. Shackleton commemorates the composer’s close friend, a distant relation to the explorer and fellow geologist ( Metier downplays Ramsay’s scientific career). Textures mimic Shackleton’s purported grumpiness, and flamenco gestures reflect the dedicatee’s work in Spain, however the overall mood is funereal and somber.
The non-programmatic No. 3 explicitly wrestles with Mozart’s Dissonant , K. 465 . The five-movement arch form contrasts tritone-distant keys and the finale employs the Fibonacci series. Commissioned to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday, the single-movement Fourth ‘s program is minutely detailed in the notes. Particles and gas form planets upon which life appears. Man evolves and music representing different religions leads to a combative fugue and thence to war culminating in apocalypse. A quiet epilogue reflects upon a barren planet’s unexpected beauty. Ramsay shies away from contemporary trends — his music is vastly more distinctive.