Naxos push their commission of Maxwell Davies' quartets to its final conclusion by gathering them all into one box set, selling it slightly cheaper than the five separate discs put together. Those who are planning to get them all may as well get this - and you get a marvellous cardboard box with it as well!
Anyhow, highlights include the 2nd quartet, the 5th, the 7th and the 9th. For anyone just seeking one disc, try the first (the 1st and 2nd quartets). The musical language of all the quartets is tough, sinewy and dense. Frankly, it can try one's patience at points, and one sometimes gets the impression that the works can be a bit 'samey'. However, there is generally a fairly acceptable level of invention. Some of the quartets are distinctly uninspiring, however. Quartets 4 and 8, for example, seem to meander through pages of dross without much to lighten the journey. Quartet no. 3, written on the invasion of Iraq, has some good passages, but lets itself down with weak outer movements. No. 6 is weirdly inconsistent in quality (I have reviewed in detail elsewhere on Amazon), and no. 10, despite its likeably puckish humour, and a sterlingly superb 'Passamezzo Farewell', comes across as unnervingly bizarre.
Overall Maxwell Davies' project was interesting in its exposure of his music, his exposure of material more speculative than some of his early stuff, and of course it presented us with some really strong music. But the quality is inconsistent, and some of the music comes across as repetitious. In a discussion with the reviewer N. E. M. Goulder, he pointed out that a commission demands a time limit, and that this can lead to inconsistency, whereas when Maxwell Davies didn't worry about where the next commission came from - in his earlier days, he went to live in the Orkneys, and became totally self-sufficient, growing his own crops and so forth - he produced some of his strongest music.