Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets Nos 1 and 2
If this initial instalment is anything to go by, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s ambitious series of 10 Naxos Quartets is already shaping up to be quite a journey. Not only does the septuagenarian composer rise superbly to the technical challenges of the medium, the first two movements of the First Quartet evince a formal strength, expressive scope and thematic ingenuity that launch the cycle in sure-footed fashion; both attain a dramatic and emotional resolution in some arresting unison writing. The compact concluding scherzo could hardly provide a bolder contrast; its ghostly, Will-’o-the-wisp dialogue will re-emerge in the Third Quartet.
Having attended the London première of the Second Quartet just a couple of weeks after the date of this recording, I must say it was gratifying to be so deeply absorbed afresh by Maxwell Davies’s eloquent inspiration. There are four movements this time, the second and third of which comprise a self-contained diptych (and the former’s recitative first half harks back to No 1’s Largo centrepiece). The outer movements are more expansive. An expectant Lento introduction leads to a bracing Allegro, its progress stimulating and satisfyingly proportioned. The Lento flessible> finale is finer still: a memorably serene and utterly inevitable essay.
The Magginis are most accurate and cogent guides, realistically recorded within the sympathetic acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk. A most rewarding coupling.