Walton String Quartet in A minor; Piano Quartet in D minor
This disc of chamber music provides a splendid follow-up to the fine orchestral recordings already included in Naxos’s Walton series. The young players of the Maggini Quartet – who earlier recorded Britten, Elgar and Moeran for Naxos – give refined and powerful performances of both works. The opening of the 1947 String Quartet is presented in hushed intimacy, making the contrast all the greater when Walton’s richly lyrical writing emerges in full power. There is a tender, wistful quality here, which culminates in a rapt, intense account of the slow movement, where the world of late Beethoven comes much closer than most interpreters have appreciated. The poignancy of those two longer movements is then set against the clean bite of the second movement Scherzo and the brief hectic finale, with their clear and transparent textures. This is as fine a version as any – and like others in the series a splendid bargain, beautifully recorded.
With Peter Donohoe a powerful and incisive presence, and the Maggini Quartet again playing most persuasively, the early Piano Quartet – an astonishing achievement for a teenage composer – is also given a performance of high contrasts, enhanced by a refined recording which conveys genuine pianissimos that are free from highlighting. If, in the first three movements, the pentatonic writing gives little idea of the mature Walton to come, some characteristic rhythmic and other devices are already apparent. Even the pentatonicry suggests that the boy had been looking at the Howells Piano Quartet rather than any Vaughan Williams. It is in the finale that one gets the strongest Waltonian flavour in vigorously purposeful argument, though there the echoes are different, and Stravinsky’s Petrushka is an obvious influence. The only reservation is that, refined as the recording is, the piano is rather too forwardly balanced.'