Maggini Quartet

Arthur Bliss: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 2

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Considering his String Quartet No. 2 (1950), Arthur Bliss once commented, " grew to be the most substantial chamber work that I had attempted." If by this Bliss meant that his musical material, developmental procedures, technical explorations, and form outstripped any of his previous chamber works, then the Quartet No. 2 clearly squares with his judgment. Yet Bliss' remark may also hint that this complex piece was, for all his labors, more significant to him than the more popular Clarinet Quintet (1932), which many have regarded as his best chamber piece. Whatever the case, listeners have an opportunity to compare both works on this 2004 Naxos CD, and to weigh the abstract, nervous, and sometimes thorny Quartet against the more openhearted and melodically appealing Quintet. The edgy performance of the former by the Maggini String Quartet emphasizes the work's dissonance, tension and unsettled moods, and pushes the piece a bit closer to Expressionism than Bliss may have intended. The Clarinet Quintet, however, is more mellow and accessible in its lush, post-Romantic character and straightforward presentation. In terms of expression, clarinetist David Campbell and the Maggini deliver a lively and sometimes affecting performance, but they play at a much lower level of intensity than is found in the first work. Naxos provides superb sound quality.

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