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Arnold Bax String Quartets no.3 (Maggini Quartet) Review

Album. Released 2001.  

BBC Review

A recording of warmth and detail, with intimacy yet beautifully captured ambience.

Andrew McGregor 2003

It's strange but deeply satisfying to be able to say that the reputation of Arnold Bax's Symphonies is probably secure, thanks to the efforts of conductors like Vernon Handley, Bryden Thomson and David Lloyd-Jones; Bax's tone poems are even better bedded-in now.

But the rehabilitation is hardly complete, as this new Naxos release reminds us. So we know the pleasures of Bax's orchestral music, the intense colour of the scores; how does his chamber music compare?

Inevitably a string quartet offers fewer colours to play with, yet while you listen to the String Quartet No. 3 you never feel impoverished. The intensity, the warmth, the sheer lyrical beauty of the work is quite staggering at times, and the playing of the Maggini Quartet is stunning, from the hushed whispers of the third movement's Trio, to the rhythmic unanimity of all four performers in the Scherzo proper, with its unsettling harmonic insecurity and nervous tics and twitches... or the robust exuberance of the finale, with its unexpectedly powerful ending.

The melodic ideas pour from Bax's pen, a rich profusion that seems to stem from a summer spent in England, and memories of his beloved Ireland: 'the coming of spring in beautiful Kenmare'...and if there are shadows, then they're not the shadows of war; the Third Quartet dates from 1936, written for the Griller Quartet.

The Magginis have already made a superb recording of the first two Bax quartets for Naxos, and this fine recording completes the picture: warmth and detail, intimacy yet beautifully captured ambience. Add the other two works, earlier Bax expressing in more straightforward terms his love-affair with Ireland; observe that none of this heart-warming music is otherwise available on CD, and clock the price: £4.99. How can you possibly resist?

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