Schubert sonatas

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Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934)
Naxos Quartet No.5 (2004) [20:32]
Naxos Quartet No.6 (2004/5) [35:07]
Maggini Quartet
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, May 2005
NAXOS 8.557398  [55:39]


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.

The Naxos 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.

The Naxos 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.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Colin Clarke


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