Naxos Quartet No.2 [London premiere]
Naxos Quartet No.3 [World premiere] Haydn
String Quartet in D minor, Op.76/2 (Fifths)
[Laurence Jackson & David Angel (violins); Martin Outram (viola) & Michal Kaznowski (cello)]
Maxs Naxos Quartets Nos.2 & 3
Wednesday, October 15, 2003 Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Sir Peter (Max) is involved in a project to write 10 string quartets, the Naxos title recognises the record companys commission. Naxos will also record the cycle. The first CD, of quartets 1 and 2, is scheduled for the autumn of 2004.
Haydn has been a big influence on Maxwell Davies and one can find baroque/classical links with Naxos No.3 movements headed March, Inventions and Fugue. Its an impressive work that held the attention throughout, not least in the 15-minute In nomine, a slow movement of fractured reference that seems a personal indictment of one of the worse foreign policy decisions this quartet was composed in March and April this year. The happenings in Iraq (one of the greatest disasters of our time, said Max from the platform, to a fair amount of applause) influenced the course of the quartet; the opening March becomes pompous, fatuous and splintered, although this isnt overt as often with this composer such things are internalised.
The In nomine is at the heart of Naxos No.3. The other three movements together play for a similar length whether in the dexterity of the Inventions or the formality and flight of the closing Fugue an open-ended conclusion, no doubt anticipating Naxos No.4.
The Maggini Quartet (which has notched up some impressive Naxos recordings of British music not least Bax, Bridge and Vaughan Williams) seemed absorbed in PMDs machinations. Earlier it had delivered Haydns Fifths with brio, yet not without mannerism. This degree of calculation was at odds with the spontaneous invention of the music. The apposite urgency (and emotional contrasts) given to the first movement were undermined to a certain extent by a lack of tension, and the lucidity of the Andante really didnt need phrasal tweaking. Overriding the ma non troppo marking of the Allegro minuet, however, made one an immediate convert to this movement being so driven.
Naxos Quartet No.2, first performed at this years Cheltenham Festival, is exactly the 43 minutes its composer claims, although the long first movement came in two less than the anticipated 18. This opening movement has sufficient weight and density to be paralleled to the late quartets of Beethoven, and can be considered quite an achievement in terms of self-perpetuation. After this come a dramatic recitative, counterweighted by something more reflective, and a scherzo of the intermezzo type (to borrow the composers description). The slow finale, of a similar time-span to the first movement, initially rests on a mellifluous rocking motif and intensely expands.
Yet, the close is, once again, inconclusive or seems so. The unity of these ten works will only become clear several years hence. Not having heard Naxos No.1, one notes material shared between Nos. 2 & 3, to which the composer alludes, but while No.3 makes a direct and lasting impression, No.2 is a tougher nut to crack.
In stylistic terms, Max is recognisable through Scottish dance rhythms (Naxos 2) and his personal use of pizzicato figures. There were times when Shostakovich came to mind the spare, desolate music; Bartók in the sophisticated use of simple material (Naxos No.3); Schoenberg in terms of organisation; and Berg in what might be called spectral emotionalism (the quartets respective scherzos).
This interesting project and, for our times, novel commission in its breadth (one might think of Max as Haydn and Naxoss Klaus Heymann as Prince Esterházy!) brings with it a keen sense of expectation each quartet instalment and, then, the whole cycle. The Naxos CDs will be invaluable to follow the path to Naxos 10 in 2007 I believe and then back to the beginning!