Britten String Quartets, Vol 2
This second volume of the Maggini Quartet’s Britten series amply fulfils the promise of the first (12/98). As before, the recording, made in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay (near Newbury) favours blend and immediacy: the leading full-price alternative, recorded at Snape by the Sorrel Quartet for Chandos, has a richer atmosphere and a stronger sense of space, but, as interpretations, the Maggini’s versions need fear nothing from the current competition.
This view is confirmed in the major work here, the late Third Quartet. Here is a score whose extreme contrasts of mood and texture, ranging from rapt serenity to explosive bitterness, are the more difficult to make convincing for the extraordinary economy of means which the ailing Britten summoned up. Four years ago (7/95), in surveying the full field of recordings, from the original Amadeus version onwards, I concluded that it was the Endellion Quartet on the mid-price EMI British Composers label who offered the outstanding interpretation of the Third Quartet. With that version currently unavailable, the Maggini are hard to beat in the conviction they bring to all aspects of what is a notably well-focused, technically polished account. Their choice of basic tempos for the tricky outer movements is ideal, and they relish the elements of parody elsewhere without descending into caricature.
This disc also provides the only currently available version of the early but fascinatingly radical Quartettino. With other early works to come in Vol. 3, the Maggini also steal a march on the current competition by including the quartet version of the Simple Symphony, whose highlight is a genuinely sentimental sarabande. '