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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
String Quartet No. 1 in G major (1918)
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1925)
Maggini String Quartet
Rec 19-21 December 1999, Potton Hall, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.555282 [54.00]


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Like so many composers, Sir Arnold Bax is known by only a fragment of his large output of music. Chief among the neglected areas of his achievement is the chamber music, certainly less frequently performed and recorded than his richly romantic orchestral scores.

Therefore it is good to find these two string quartets coupled in an appealing budget release from Naxos, pleasingly recorded by a talented ensemble already recognised for their prowess in British music. According to the informative Naxos note by the indefatigable Lewis Foreman, there was a time before World War Two when Bax's chamber music - the Quartet No. 1 in particular - was often performed. Fashions may have changed since then, but of course the music has remained the same, as this excellent performance reminds us.

There are three movements in both these quartets, and at 24 minutes and thirty minutes respectively, the scale is well judged and not inflated in the least. Nor is the melodic invention found wanting. In fact this music might attract those who question Bax's indulgent manner in his orchestral works, particularly the symphonies.

The Second is the more ambitious and complex of these two Quartets, with a really impressive funeral episode at the heart of an otherwise lively finale. The Molto espressivo slow movement may not quite justify its ten-minute span (admittedly others may disagree), but like the First Quartet this remains well worth hearing, especially at bargain price and with admirably atmospheric sound.

Terry Barfoot


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