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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
Books posted the day the order is received

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Phantasy Quintet (1912) [15.06]
String Quartet No.1 in G minor (1908 rev.1921) [29.36]
String Quartet No.2 in A minor (1942-3) [21.46]
Maggini Quartet
Garfield Jackson, viola
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, June 13-15 2000
NAXOS 8.555300 [66.29]

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This is a magnificent disc; one which will give great pleasure to all lovers of Vaughan Williams, as well as a few haters. There are those who are unconvinced by his pastoral (more uncharitable critics call it cow-pat) style of English folksiness. At its best, however, his music has a beautiful, calm quality, with gorgeous harmonies and melodic lines. This music is towards the finer end of his range of compositions.

First and foremost amongst the qualities of this recording is the playing of the Maggini Quartet. Never less than immaculate, their playing is all that you could wish for in advocates of lesser known works: technically excellent and impassioned by a real belief in the music.

These three pieces, written at various stages of his career are similar in style, all influenced to some extent by the string quartet of Maurice Ravel, written only five years before Vaughan Williamsí first attempt at the genre. Then again, which young composer, unconvinced by the prevailing Romantic excess and harmonic outlandishness, would not regard this amazing work as a beacon? RVW briefly took lessons from the French master, and the same coolness of tone is obvious in this music. What might surprise listeners aware only of The Lark Ascending is the drama which RVW generates in these works. The opening movement of the first quartet is full of bold gestures, and this performance, rhythmically precise with a fantastic range of dynamics, brings them off brilliantly. Whether the gestures add up to a unified whole is open to debate, but the piece can be enjoyed as a series of events when they are played as wonderfully as this.

The second quartet is the latest work here, a wartime piece that juxtaposes stridency and serenity. The emotional heart of the piece is the second movement Romanza, and the Magginis capture this by not only playing it beautifully, but by heightening the drama of the surrounding first and third movements.

The quartet is supplemented by the viola of Garfield Jackson for the Phantasy Quintet, the sleeve notes granting the violist a prominence that misleadingly looks like solo billing. The Quintet in facts uses the extra voice to build richer textures (listeners might be reminded of the Fifth Symphony). Jackson blends beautifully, creating a range of colours that bring the piece to life.

For all their qualities, these are not pieces that belong in the very highest echelons of the quartet repertoire, but the excellent performances on this disc bring their pleasures very much to the fore. Only a total anti-VWite would be disappointed.

Naxos hits the bullseye again, as truly excellent performances bring these lesser known works to life. Essential for all Vaughan Williams lovers, very important for everyone else.

Aidan Twomey

See also reviews by Terry Barfoot and Hubert Culot


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