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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    


Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
String Quartet in E flat major (date unknown)
String Quartet in A minor (1921)
String Trio (1931)
Maggini String Quartet
Recorded in All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, England, 9th - 10th December 1995.
NAXOS 8.554079 [59.23]


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Almost seven years after it was recorded, the first Naxos disc to survey the work of "Jack" Moeran remains one of the most impressive in the label's catalogue. Even more so than the excellent contemporaneous disc of music by Frank Bridge, this was the CD that well and truly put the Magginis on the musical map. Highly idiomatic discs of Elgar, Walton, Bliss and Bax have since enhanced the quartet's reputation but this is the still the one I hold in greatest affection. These quartets brought them into the path of formidable competition from a (full-priced) ASV disc. The ASV featured the Cork-based Vanbrughs. The couplings differed offering, instead of the String Trio, the very Ravelian Piano Trio and the Fantasy (Oboe) Quartet. Why not invest in both? Faced with a choice though, I would still plump for the Maggini and not only because of the advantageous price differential. The haunting String Trio could well be Moeran's chamber masterpiece and, much as I enjoy the Piano Trio, it has to be heard.

Different commentators fail to agree on the origin of the two movement E flat major Quartet. Moeran's widow, the cellist Peers Coetmore, found the manuscript in his papers after his death. This has prompted some (including the writer of the booklet notes, Keith Anderson) to suggest that it is an early work. Others, including members of the Maggini themselves, have since placed it much later, given that it is very similar, in many ways, to the "Irish" themed works of his last years. It is a beautifully lyrical piece that combines pastoral meditation with vigorous, dancing folk tunes and rhythms. The closing passage, in particular, ingrains itself on the memory very easily. Perhaps it is the chamber equivalent of the middle movement of the Violin Concerto and the finale of the Cello Concerto. All three works are alive with the atmosphere of rural Ireland that Moeran found so inspirational.

The A minor Quartet has much in common with the E flat major. It is slightly more assured and equally memorable with modal, pastoral and folk-like pentatonic themes dominant. Like his other quartet, Moeran ended the piece with an Allegro Vivace, in this case a Rondo. This is the only chamber music disc, apart from Dvořák and the Kronos's Pieces of Africa, that I have ever seen my little daughter actually dance to! It really is that infectious.

The four movement String Trio is more ambitious (and ambiguous!) than the quartets. The first movement uses a 7/8 time signature and, though pentatonic, folkish themes still abound. There is more of a sense of unease or even tension in some passages. Along the way, we also encounter a cello led misterioso passage and even some mildly dissonant moments, although the final Andante grazioso-Presto movement ends the piece in a positive, emphatic manner.

All these pieces are beautifully performed and recorded and the disc should be totally self-recommending to any fan of British 20th Century music. Although there are some echoes of Vaughan Williams and Ravel, this music could not have been written by anyone but Moeran. Like the recent companion orchestral CD, I would encourage anyone to invest in it - there can be few (if any) better ways to spend a fiver!!!

Neil Horner

 


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