Culture: Second Helping of Modern Quartets Really Hits the Spot; Maxwell Davies: Naxos Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 - Maggini Quartet (Naxos 8.557397) Pounds 4.99
Byline: Review by David Hart
HHHHH Following the success of Peter Maxwell Davies' first two Naxos Quartets, the third and fourth in the series are fully up to the standard established at the start of this unique project.
This is mature music full of emotional power, intellectual rigour and fascinating aural perspectives, especially in its quieter moments. The long In Nomine slow movement of the third quartet, for example, is beguilingly beautiful in the ways it explores aspects of the traditional plainsong theme before letting us hear it complete, albeit in a dissonantly fractured form, towards the end.
Maxwell Davies originally intended to make the third quartet a 'concentrated attempt at virtuoso composition' in response to a study of Bach's keyboard Inventions (he also refers to magic squares as a structural discipline), but the conflict in Iraq affected its progress. So, although the third and fourth movements' titles - Four Inventions and a Hymn and Fugue - pay nominal allegiance to Bach, the actual music has elements of irony and conflict. There's grotesqueness too, in the short Hymn, which Maxwell Davies marks stucchevole (cloying, nauseating), a strange sound of wobbly vibrato and out-of-tune playing.
As an 'unpremeditated and spontaneous reaction to the illegal invasion' the first movement, March, most clearly represents the composer's view of events in Iraq, with the opening material developing into a 'fatuous and splintered' military march before eventually becoming a 'ghost' of itself in the slow coda. …