Davies has composed
eight quartets in this cycle so far, and six of them have now
been committed to disc. No doubt about it, this is an ambitious
project that can only be compared to the earlier Strathclyde Concertos.
It also says much for Davies’ grasp of long-term planning, much
more so in this case than in the Strathclyde Concertos that were
conceived as independent works. Indeed, in his notes for the first
instalment, Davies described the Naxos Quartets as a novel in
ten chapters, which implies that each quartet is connected to
the other ones in one way or another. A full appreciation of the
cycle as a whole will only be possible when the cycle is completed.
A truism, maybe, but all that can be done for the time being is
to examine each work on its own, independently of the other. I
do not doubt that some fearless analyst will go into details concerning
the structure of the entire cycle and the various links, thematic
and other, between its components.
Quartet No.5 “Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland” is
probably the shorter of the first six and – as far as I am concerned
– the most readily accessible so far. The subtitle, does not
imply any programmatic or descriptive intent. It suggests that
the music is constantly changing in the course of the work while
remaining basically the same, albeit viewed from ever-changing
perspectives. It also hints at the play of light and darkness
that characterises much of the music.
Quartet No.6 is rather more complex and ambitious than
its predecessor. It is in six highly contrasted movements, of
which the fourth (Andante molto) is by far the most developed.
This long movement is the real emotional core of the work. The
other movements are all much shorter, and quite neatly characterised.
The tonally ambiguous opening movement is followed by two short
quick movements, actually two Scherzos, leading into the very
heart of the piece (the beautiful Andante molto). This is in
turn followed by a short, simple carol. The Sixth Quartet is
nicely rounded-off by a lively Allegro bringing the whole piece
to its assertive conclusion. Although the music does not pose
any real problem, the main difficulty here is to understand
how the various movements relate to each other – or not. Anyway,
this quartet is an impressive piece, often of great beauty.
The Maggini play
wonderfully throughout, and obviously have the full measure
of the music. They clearly believe in it and play with communicative
enthusiasm. They have already put us much in their debt for
their earlier recordings of Britten, Bridge, Bax, Moeran and
Vaughan Williams. I do not doubt that this impressive cycle
will be one of their greatest achievements.
see also Review
by Colin Clarke