The Fitzwilliam Quartet first drew international acclaim for its performances and recordings of the 15 string quartets of Shostakovich. Having met the composer in his last years, the Fitzwilliam players became instrumental in gaining currency for the Shostakovich quartets, becoming the first to record them complete (in a series originally released on L'oiseau-Lyre LPs 1975-1979) and reissued later on Decca CDs. But the Fitzwilliam Quartet has hardly limited itself to Shostakovich or early 20th century fare, as its repertory has encompassed works by J.S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and a spate of British composers that includes Vaughan Williams, Delius, Warlock, Finzi, and Bliss. The Fitzwilliam Quartet's recordings are available mostly on Decca and Linn Records.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet was formed in 1968 by four Cambridge University students: Christopher Rowland and Jonathan Sparey (violins), Alan George (viola), and Ioan Davies (cello). The four were mentored by founder/violinist in the Griller Quartet, Sidney Griller (Royal Academy of Music), who was also instrumental in shaping the Alberni, Coull, Lindsay, and Medici quartets.
There have been several changes over the years in the Fitzwilliam: the 2011 personnel includes both Sparey and George, Lucy Russell (first violin), joining in 1988 and becoming leader in 1995; and Heather Tuach (cello), joining in 2008, replacing Andrew Skidmore.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet gave their first concert in 1969, and began their professional career upon appointment as quartet-in-residence at York University in 1971. The following year the Fitzwilliam gave the western premiere of the 1970 Shostakovich Thirteenth Quartet, from parts sent by the composer. That same year the group met Shostakovich, and he entrusted the ensemble to give the western premieres of his last two quartets.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet served as quartet-in-residence at Warwick University from 1974-1977, and again at York University from 1977-1986. By the mid-'80s it was internationally acclaimed, and regularly toured Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere across the globe. In 2000 the ensemble began recording for Linn Records, its first effort being Haydn's Seven Last Words. The Fitzwilliam's concert tours in the new century have included South Africa (2001), Russia (2004), and U.S., Spain, and Switzerland (2006).
In 2009-2010 it served as artist-in-residence at the Ryedale Music Festival (North Yorkshire, England) and at the Festival de l'Abbaye du Pin (France). Among its recordings is the 2007 Linn Records CD On Wenlock Edge, with tenor James Gilchrist and other instrumentalists.