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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    


BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
String Quartet No. 1 (1918)
String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
Maggini Quartet
rec 19-21 Dec 1999, Potton Hall, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.555282 [54.00]


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An innocent and sun-dappled work, it comes as a surprise to hear that the First Quartet was written during the last year of the Great War. Its three movements bubble along smilingly or serenely, throwing off great tunes and harmonic teases with abandon. The Maggini's swoop and etch, dance and spin the music with every appearance of carefree ease. This is joyous, life-embracing music written in a sunny Dvorakian dazzle. You must hear this! The outer movements develop an authentic Wienerisch bustle and in the Rondo a spectral quality and (at 3.10 track 3) one of the loveliest tunes in all music. If you are not very careful (and why should you be) you will find yourself whistling the themes from the First Quartet.

This is the First Quartet's second CD recording and both are fine though the best sound is with the Naxos. The Magginis also make more of the lento. Whoever chose Potton Hall as the venue for the Maggini British series chose well. The first CD recording, still available on CD, initially appeared on LP and was from Chandos. That however is differently coupled (with the Piano Quartet and the Harp Quintet).

The Second Quartet is at the other pole from the First. It is a work for Bax connoisseurs rather than those wanting to find a way into the Baxian heritage. Coeval with the Second Symphony it lacks that work's melodic treasury but shares its vertical complexity of line. It is by no means an ingratiating work and the contrast with the First Quartet is stark. I must not give the impression that it is without attraction but the complexity takes its toll and it does not speak with immediacy. Oddly enough it made me think of the music of Eugene Goossens especially his By the Tarn and First Quartet.

The competition is again from Chandos and again is differently coupled. The Chandos is harnessed with the Piano Quintet one of Bax's ten greatest works and incidentally showing that his work from the war years could be epic, tragic and emotionally poignant as well as carefree (vide the First Quartet)

The liner notes are by Lewis Foreman so we are guaranteed readability, facts and opinions firmly founded on evidence.

One of last year's top ten classical discs. Roll on the Naxos/Maggini Third Quartet - a work of symphonic impact and scale.

Rob Barnett


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