Max – Naxos Quartet No.6

String Quartet in G, Op.76/1
Maxwell Davies
Naxos Quartet No.6 [World Premiere]
String Quartet in D minor, K421

Maggini Quartet
[Laurence Jackson & David Angel (violins); Martin Outram (viola) & Michael Kaznowski (cello)]

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 26 April, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Given Peter Maxwell Davies’s lifelong interest in the Viennese classics, it seems apt that his Naxos Quartet No.6, inspired as it is by Beethoven’s late quartets, should be programmed alongside Haydn and Mozart. And full marks to the Maggini Quartet for approaching all three works with much the same sense of exploration and delight in novelty.

The Maggini eased into the Allegro con spirito of the Haydn with an almost prelude-like searching, the tone warm and the approach amiable, before tastefully handling the transition to the development and the subsequent delightful rococo episodes that heralded a confident, centred recapitulation. The machine was now well and truly oiled, the Adagio sostenuto revealing a charming profusion of sustained chords over a trellis of beautifully controlled dynamics. This led to a Minuet in which precise rhythms leapt out with rounded corners, the edge taken off the drama of the outer movements to minimise the contrast with the trio so that the final Allegro non troppo could make a more powerful statement before playing its little joke – and, yes, this reviewer was caught out with the false ending (well – it’s been at least 10 years since I’ve heard this piece!).

Maxwell Davies’s sixth ‘instalment’ of his projected series of ten string quartets commissioned by CD label Naxos is a big, six-movement work, dedicated to Alexander Goehr, and centred around a substantial Adagio molto; the second and penultimate movements make use of plainsong material. The slippery chromaticism of the busy Allegro provided a textured backdrop for the Maggini to fling bold solo statements and tremolando around with great fluency before a subdued ending heralded the all-pizzicato Allegro moderato, based on the Advent plainsong “Domenica Tertia Adventus”. What a nice idea, transforming flowing chant into highly syncopated, plucked drops of sound! A second scherzo-like movement followed, featuring more fragile pizzicato, this time harassed by violent outbursts that were in turn softened by a more meditative section. In the lengthy Adagio molto the Maggini Quartet shone, handling the unsettled material with great delicacy before abandoning themselves sequentially to a series of recitatives in double stops against a background of sustained chords. A chorale-like Andante, based on the Christmas plainsong “In die Nativitatis”, led to the slowly mounting tension of syncopation and busy textures in the final Allegro, which recalled the opening movement just as the penultimate did the second (Christmas pointing back to Advent!). The symmetry revealed, tension dissipated in a glowing final chord.

Mozart’s D minor Quartet followed the interval (which further dissipated any lingering tensions!), and here the Maggini was equally at home. A forthright, expressive Allegro led to the subtle operatic gestures of the Andante, the dramatic contrasts and utterly charming trio of the Minuet and the variations of the final Allegro ma non troppo. The members of the Maggini again displayed the variety of tone and balance of parts that had so distinguished their playing throughout the evening. As they did in the extraordinarily subtle final movement of Maxwell Davies’s first Naxos Quartet, which was played as an encore.

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