“The best moments in the quartets were the slow passages, which showed Maxwell Davies has lost none of his gift for spinning a contrapuntal web of tensely dissonant beauty.”
“The impression of great things given by the first two quartets in the Naxos cycle is amply confirmed by this no less rewarding second volume. Work on the Third Quartet during the spring of 2003 was profoundly affected, the composer informs us in his booklet-note, by news of the invasion of Iraq. Presumably, then, it's not too fanciful to ascribe certain aspects of the score to his dismay at that conflict. Sample the development section of the first-movement March (described by its creator as a 'military march of a fatuous and splintered nature'), the queasily wide vibrato that discolours the short hymn marked stucchevole (meaning 'cloying' or 'nauseating') towards the end of the third movement ('Four Inventions and a Hymn'), or the questioning demeanour of the finale ('Fuga'). At the same time, the quartet (whose four movements span some 31 minutes) stands up convincingly on its own terms. Impressive is its unerring sense of growth, proportion and contrapuntal ingenuity (Davies states that, before composition, he embarked upon a fruitful re-examination of Bach's Two- and Three-part Inventions), while the slow movement ('In nomine') incorporates the magical return of the ghostly, ethereal dialogue 'left hanging in the air' at the end of the First Quartet. Cast in a single movement lasting just under 25 minutes, No 4 takes its cue from Bruegel's Children'sGames (a canvas which also inspired Davies's Sixth Strathclyde Concerto, for flute and orchestra). The composer had originally intended it to be 'lighter and much less fierce than its predecessor', but a fretful mood underpins the relentless logic of this music with its protean motivic transformations and intriguing harmonic byways. The immaculately judged part-writing displays a bracing mastery of the idiom and, needless to say, the Magginis once again play with superlative poise and intelligence. Both sound and balance are first-rate.”
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