Britten String Quartets, Vol 1
The Maggini Quartet launch their Britten series with a well-blended sense of ensemble, and they surmount the music’s many technical challenges with ease and authority. Despite the picture of Snape on the booklet cover, this Naxos recording was made in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay (near Newbury), and the sound is less warm and immediate than that obtained at The Maltings by Chandos for the Sorrel Quartet and Collins for the Britten Quartet; or than that of the Princeton University auditorium used by RCA for the Tokyo Quartet. Some subtleties of detail are therefore less immediately apparent on Naxos than with these alternatives, although the sound is distinctly superior to the older analogue versions on CRD (Alberni) and London (Amadeus).
The Maggini offer a programme which is not exactly duplicated elsewhere, and fuller comparisons should wait until the project is complete. For the moment the Britten Quartet remain the outstanding exponents of No. 1, with a supremely well-shaped and dramatic (yet never exaggerated) reading, while for No. 1 and the Three Divertimenti together, the Sorrel Quartet’s performances have a slightly greater naturalness and feeling for line. The Maggini are nevertheless very impressive in the more ambitious Second Quartet, and this performance brings their disc into serious contention, against both bargain- and full-price competition. The Britten and Tokyo ensembles are both overemphatic – even melodramatic – in the great final chaconne, while the Amadeus are magnificently vivid, despite the dated sound. Evidently, choice is not easy, but the possibility of definitive recommendations will become clearer when further issues in both the Maggini and Sorrel Britten series become available.'