of Maxwell Davies' 'Naxos' Quartet cycle should not be underestimated.
This is music by a composer whose imagination is undimmed
- even if the notoriety of his earlier years has reverse-transmogrified
into communications of a more approachable nature. The Maggini
Quartet plays these scores with such empathy it is as if they
have lived with this music for decades.
Late in 2004 I
was impressed by the first volume of the series, a Musicweb
International Recording of the Month (see review).
Volume 2 was just as awe-inspiring (see review).
Coming to Volume 3, I see no reason to adjust my impressions.
The Magginis remains just as technically impressive and emotionally
expressive. The recording (Andrew Walton and Eleanor Thomason)
is appropriate to its subject matter – rather close, acting
to emphasise the expressionist nature of these works.
seems a very apt tag – much of this is like Berg ... but with
extra Berg added. I wonder if No. 5 is the first string quartet
ever to have a lighthouse in its subtitle? The reference here
is to the nocturnal sweep of the light as well as to the individual
'calls' of the lighthouses; each one having an individual
rhythm. The excellent booklet notes by the composer refer
to 'dominants' and 'sub-dominants' before adding the important
qualifier 'or their substitutes'. Whatever the generating
factors, there is no doubting the underlying lyric impulse
just as there is no ignoring the ever-fascinating, always
shifting sonic land/sea -scape we are given. Having the chance
to subject it to repeated hearings only emphasised the sense
of greatness I gleaned at its Wigmore Hall World premiere
The Fifth Quartet
is in only two movements, a Largo and a Lento.
Despite the similarity in tempo indication, there is more
of a tendency towards the Urschrei in the Lento,
and if anything the concentration is screwed even further;
the Maggini never let it drop for an instant. Throughout all
of this there is a clear and coherent musical language.
The Sixth Quartet
reintroduced Max's fascination with Plainsong: Domenica
Tertia Adventurus Antiphona for the second movement and
In Die Nativitatis for the fifth, incidentally written
on Christmas Day. Stasis/active juxtapositions are very marked
in the first movement, while the second, despite its Plainsong
roots, seems to flirt with jazz. Perhaps this is to emphasise
the contrast with the aching, hyper-expressive Adagio molto
two movements later. A hushed viol consort reference for In
Die Nativitatis is hugely effective before an active,
almost dancing finale closes another fascinating quartet from
Superb – as we
have come to expect from the Naxos/Maggini combination. More
than that, this is important. The composer/record company
marriage is leading to things which may with justification
be referred to as 'great'.