PETER MAXWELL DAVIES: Naxos Quartets 1 and 2, 3 and 4/ Maggini String Quartet – Naxos

by | Jul 29, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PETER MAXWELL DAVIES: Naxos Quartets 1 and 2;  3 and 4 –
Maggini String Quartet – Naxos Records 8.557396, 8.557397 – (2 separate
CDs) *****:

Commisioned by Naxos records and composed in  2002-2004 as the
first four of a projected ten string quartets, “Max” has stretched the
fabric of the post twentieth century string quartet. Utilizing the now
familiar “Max” devices of the Orkney soundscape, his ongoing exposition
of “magic square” tonal development , referential plainsong and, in the
third quartet, his response to the Iraq war.

Peter  Maxwell Davies is a greatly gifted and prodigous composer.
He has produced successful compositions and recordings of choral music
for solo and massed voices, symphonic music for large and small groups,
and combinations therof involving voice, orchestra, chamber groups. He
has been actively involved in composition for more than thirty
years.  Maxwell Davies’ music is highly original and demanding of
the listener, often requiring repetitive listening/study to come to
grips with his musical language.

The first and second Quartets deal with Max’ ever present Orkney
sounds/colors. The familiar calls of sea birds and craggy pristine
landscape of the North Atlantic are evoked uneeringly by his expanded
writing for string quartet. Has any E-string been so thoroughly tested?
Juxtaposed against vigorous viola and cello attacks, the range of tone
and intensity of feeling is quite remarkable.

In the notes supplied with these recordings, Peter Maxwell Davies cites
his indebtedness to both Haydn and Beethoven as classical models for
the structure of his quartet writing. The first movement of Quartet #1
uses the Haydn fast-slow-fast model while the opening bars of #1 are
similar in mood to the opening of the Beethoven F sharp major piano
sonata. Orkney free form fiddling is suggested as well. Layering of
these and more sylistic devices is masterfully carried out, followed
inevitably by deconstuction. The ebb and flow of this music, of
vitality, becomes increasingly engaging with listener familiarity.

Maxwell Davies tells us that the Third Quartet began as a work to
explore the creative potential of certain magic square tonal
associations based on the Plainsong celebrating St. Cecelia on Nov. 22.
This Quartets’ development was affected by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Third Quartet is in four movements: The first  “A military
march of a fatuous and splintered nature”, the second  a slow In
Nomine “quietly distorted and dissonant, that is, very much not ‘In
Nomine’. The third movement, titled Four Inventions and a Hymn, is a
burlesque which borrows fom Bach’s Inventions. It is marked
‘stucchevole’ (cloying,nauseating) towards its end. The fourth
movement, Fugue recalls the style of the Italian fugue rather than
Bach. It is subdued, ruminative, dispairing. Maxwell Davies describes
the end of the movement: “Here in unison with the cello line, I imagine
a baritone voice intoning Michelangelo’s words: ‘While damage and shame
persist, it is my great fortune to neither see nor hear- so please do
not disturb me, and speak quietly.'”

The Naxos Quartet No.4 was written in 2004 “with the intention of
producing something lighter and much less fierce than its
predecessor.”   Inspired by the Brueghel masterpiece of 1560,
Children’s Games, it is a single movement pastiche of often vigorous
musical impressions of Brueghel’s catalog of children at play. A 
circus of visual movement is depicted musically as interlocking games
played back and forth by the four members of the string quartet. This
is deft, tight musical composition stretching the resources of string
quartet structure as well as the listener who must become an active

The Maggini Quartet,  formed in 1988, has become one of the
finest  ensembles performing today. Their recordings of the
chamber music of Vaughan Williams, Bridge, Britten, Bax, Elgar, Tippett
and Robert Simpson are celebrated as most favored recordings of these
works. In this tradition of excellence these recordings of the first
four of the Maxwell Davies String Quartets carry the imprimatur of the
composer and the quartet of players who have lived with this music
thoughout its growth and development. These performances are authentic.

Recorded at  Potton Hall, Sullfolk in 2003-04 by sound engineer
Eleanor Thomason,  there is a cool, detached yet immediate and
natural string sound presented. The sound stage is very deep, the
instumental sound finely balanced, in keeping with the nature of this
music and the beautifully performances by the Magginni Quartet.

This is important music by a major contemporary Brtitish composer . The
musical public is twice blessed: having commissioned these important
works, Naxos  also provides definitive, composer-supervised
authoritative recordings of these emerging masterpieces……most
highly recommended.

– Ronald Legum

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