Maggini Quartet

Peter Maxwell Davis: Naxos Quartets

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The Naxos commission for ten string quartets by Peter Maxwell Davies yielded works that display extraordinary variety and versatility, from a composer famous for redefining eclecticism. Issued in five volumes and performed by the Maggini Quartet, who gave the quartets their premieres and then recorded them immediately afterwards, the cycle is a major coup for the label, and something of a rarity, for recording companies are seldom in a position to take a chance on sponsoring something so monumental and daring. Maxwell Davies hadn't composed any string quartets for more than 20 years, but his creative powers were undiminished and his technical skills were never sharper. Without advanced hearing of these works, one might guess that Maxwell Davies would have borrowed heavily from the past, whether from the 18th century works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, or from the 20th century masterpieces by Bartók and Shostakovich. Yet while their spirits are clearly present, Maxwell Davies is quite subtle in his references and instead pays homage to the tradition in his handling of independent voices, balancing of proportions, and use of familiar forms, with the music brought up-to-date with modern harmonies, extended instrumental techniques, variegated timbres, and modified tonality. The Maggini Quartet pays close attention to all the fine points, and their dedicated playing gives these works a strong feeling of authority and permanence. Naxos' recording is vivid and transparent, at its best for such an important undertaking. The 2011 box set brings the five original albums together into one convenient package.

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