Maxwell Davies: Naxos Quartets Box set
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Peter Maxwell Davies is universally acknowledged as one of the foremost composers of our time, and is currently Master of the Queen s Music. His musical idiom has been described by The New York Times as a combination of medieval mysticism, modernist rigour and happy accessibility . Maxwell Davies s 10-quartet cycle commissioned by Naxos is now collected in this 5-CD boxed set. The composer has written of Quartet No 10, in no way must this be a last quartet. I needed to leave the door open: I had enjoyed writing the Naxos Quartets so much, and perhaps even learned a thing or two, that more could, in theory, eventually flourish .
The Maggini perform with the no-holds-barred commitment and jaw-dropping technical acumen we have come to expect from them throughout this massive project. --Gramophone
Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartet cycle, now complete on disc, make a hugely varied sequence in mood, manner, scale and inspiration --The Guardian
Top Customer Reviews
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.
The composer has provided extensive liner notes about his involved and complex musical structures and methods (maybe these lengthy explanations should have sounded alarm bells even before I began to listen! Good music communicates without the need for lengthy explanations.) The notes give proof that the composer invested his skill and soul in the composition of these ten quartets. He clearly knew what he was about. My regret is that as a listener I gather little of his intricate methods or emotional states.
In short I find that these pieces rarely conjure landscapes, seascapes, or any definite emotional state. Too often listening is a tedious and frustrating experience. I have no doubt that the composer (as he says) was influenced in his work by the Beethoven late quartets. I can believe these quartets are ‘from the heart’. The sad fact is only very rarely do they speak ‘to the heart’.