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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
String Quartet No. 3 (1936) [36.33]
Lyrical Interlude for string quintet (1908) [8.59]
Adagio ma non troppo Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan (1903) [11.26]
Maggini Quartet
Garfield Jackson (viola)
rec 12-14 June 2001, Potton Hall, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.555953 [56.59]



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The Magginis have already made a splash with their Naxos recordings of the quartets by Moeran, Walton, RVW, Elgar and Bliss. Last year Naxos issued their recordings of Bax's sunny Dvořákian first quartet (a lyrical gem alive with whistleable melodies) and the more densely luxuriant contrapuntal second quartet. After a round of concert performances of Bax's Third Quartet the Magginis went to Potton Hall again to complete the Bax trilogy. This is not the work's first commercial recording although it is certainly its first outing on CD. The first recording came out in 1979 on Lewis Foreman's Gaudeamus label - the LP KRS 31 with the Allegri Quartet. That Gaudeamus analogue tape never made it to CD and in the light of the Maggini's excellence it seems unlikely we will hear that again except on the original LP.

The work dates from Bax's 52nd year, 1936, when it was written for and premiered by the Griller Quartet. It is floral and perfumed (echoes of Peterson-Berger’s Frösöblömster pieces) and almost Nordic in the first movement. It is haunted and tender in the poco lento and desperate and hunted in the Scherzo and Trio (a typical bipartite Bax construct of the nineteen-thirties). I owe it to Lewis Foreman's erudite but highly readable liner note that I can mention that Bax spent summers during the 1930s with Moeran at Kenmare. Something of the Lonely Waters desolation that occasionally seeps into Bax's pages can be found also in the middle movements of Moeran's contemporaneous Symphony in G minor. The initially brusque Allegro finale is determined and full of kinetic energy and at 00.54 quotes a typical RVW gesture. This is Bax's most symphonic and ambitious quartet and while the effect is not completely convincing it is an advance on the failed experiment of the Second Quartet. Equally it misses the triumphant mastery of the Piano Quintet. The Lyrical Interlude I last heard in 1972 in a broadcast in the 'England's Green and Pleasant Land' series celebrating the RVW centenary. The Interlude is once again rather like sunnily warm Dvořák touched with the Erse wand. The slow movement of Bax's 1905 student quartet was orchestrated as his Yeatsian Cathaleen tone poem already recorded in orchestral form on Chandos. The Magginis manage a most magical triple piano at 10.30.

This is a disc indispensable to those in pursuit of the Bax of the 1930s. Those looking for a complete masterpiece in the Third Quartet will come away with something a little less but they will have discovered a fascinating neglected work of Bax's high-tide of creativity. The other two works are good to have but the reason to get this is the Third Quartet. With this disc in place there seems no need for any further competition; all the more so since the Magginis pace with their accustomed fire and tenderness.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Ian Lace

The Arnold Bax website



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