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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet in C Quartettsatz, D103 (1814) [8:01]
Five Minuets and Trios, D89 (1813) [12:38]
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor Death and the Maiden, D810 (1824) [37:59]
Maggini Quartet (David Juritz (violin); David Angel (violin); Martin Outram (viola); Michal Kaznowski (cello))
rec. live, Wigmore Hall, London, 1 June 1993 (Death and the Maiden); remainder All Saints, Petersham, 21 April 1994. DDD
RESONANCE CD RSN 3036 [59:00]



There are times when a musical performance stirs and inspires, and this is one of them. Although the work itself is powerful in its own nature and has an important place in the chamber repertoire, this live recording is particularly fresh, dynamic and urgent. It is a disc I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to and one I have replayed well beyond the call of duty. For a live recording, its quality, which is good by any standards, is exceptional.

That said, I do have some minor reservations. The accompanying notes, whilst quite informative about the work itself, give no information whatsoever about the musicians beyond the names of the members of the quartet. This seems an unfortunate omission, particularly in view of the quality of their playing. Those who enjoy this performance may be interested to know that they have recorded a series of string quartets by British composers on the Naxos label, including Peter Maxwell Davies' 'Naxos Quartet' sequence. They have their own website, www.maggini.net, where information on their performances, recordings and biography can be found.

My other main gripe is that, in comparison with some of its rivals, the disc is a little short in its overall playing time. The earlier items, Quartettsatz and Five Minuets and Trios are pleasant earlier works. Some other discs have weightier pairings, such as with the Trout Quartet, e.g. a performance by LSO principals, joined by Moura Lympany (piano) (see review).

My view is that the quality and energy of this performance of Death and the Maiden outweigh these relatively minor considerations and especially given the discís bargain price.

The CD is part of a distinguished series of chamber music recordings from Sanctuary Classics, in which the Magginis have also recorded, on ASV CD DCA 908, Szymanowski's First and Second String Quartets and String Quartet No 4 by Bacewicz, earning a recommendation from the Gramophone Good CD Guide. There are also recordings of Schubert's other important chamber works; the Octet by the Nash Ensemble (GLD 4005), the Trout by the Schubert Ensemble (GLD 4000), and a four-CD set of the late string quartets by the Lindsay Quartet, described by Gramophone magazine as 'an obvious first choice'. All of these have received critical acclaim.

An earlier recording of Death and the Maiden by the Lindsays on the same label is reviewed on this site (see review).

In terms of recent modern recordings the Lindsays complete set from the same series is the most obvious rival to the individual recordings, being an authoritative collection from a leading ensemble.

Those in search of a bargain might consider the Nimbus set of late quartets (see review).

The Maggini's playing is faster and with a less controlled sound than the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet recording on Decca 45239262, which I also own. This has a more polished yet more restrained sound which lacks the infectious enthusiasm of the present performance. The only point at which I prefer the Viennese approach is in the last movement, where there is rather more feeling of resolution and less of anguish and dissonance. Here I prefer the smoother texture of the Viennese playing.

Which approach you consider suits Schubert's music better is a matter of personal taste. However I have enjoyed this performance very much. It might not be the only recording I would choose to own of this important chamber work, but its modest price and artistic values make it a bargain. Those with a serious interest in this composer's chamber works may find it a welcome addition to other recordings they may possess. Those who have enjoyed the work in live performance in the concert hall, or perhaps accompanying ballet, will find this a dynamic and exciting recording.

I would re-iterate that this is a lively and exciting performance of a stirring work, and a disc I have found most enjoyable. 

Julie Williams


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