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on 1 June 2001
If ever there was a piece of chamber music to send tingles down my spine, it is the opening Prelude of the Phantasy Quintet (1912). It has a yearning, ecstatic intensity which hints at something beyond ourselves. Then the delightful scherzo and lovely but short alla sarabanda. Finally the burlesca, starting with a cello theme like a group of heavy-footed Morris men not sure of their steps but becoming fleeter and more delicate. A Lark Ascending-type violin solo leads to a beautiful conclusion. The Magginis play this wonderful quintet quite beautifully.
When VW started his first string quartet (1908, rev 1921), he had completed a period of study with Ravel and it is easy to discern the French influence. Although all the elements of his mature style - folk song, the English Tudor composers and French impressionism - were within him, they still had a while to simmer and blend, so this work is not fully characteristic. The Maggini Quartet take the Minuet and Trio a bit slower than usual but it still sounds right. The lovely Romance is played very tenderly, giving more emphasis to the more impassioned passages. The finale is again taken on the slow-ish side but it comes off just the same. The extraordinary ending, with the violin sliding down from the stratosphere, brings the piece to an end.
Written during the Second World War, the second string quartet (1942-3) enters a very different world. Composed between the sublime 5th symphony and the bleak 6th, its emotional world is more akin to the latter. VW wrote it as a birthday present for his friend, Jean Stewart, who was a violist. This instrument has a very important part in all four movements and in the scherzo, it is the only one that is unmuted. The prelude and scherzo are both tense emotionally though the first is most troubled. The romance has a bitter-sweet lyricism with a wonderful episode in which the viola and violin melodies twine round each other. The epilogue is based on a lyrical though sad melody and brings this outstanding work to a serene end. The Maggini Quartet give a fine performance, managing to sound ferocious when needed but treat the tender passages with a loving touch.
This disc represents outstanding value with performances which stand comparison with anyone. The recording is good with lots of detail. The notes are accurate but a bit po-faced: the ecstatic prelude to the quintet is described thus, 'The first viola starts [it] with thematic material of pentatonic outline, to be answered by the first violin. The viola ends the movement...' Hardly imbued with passion!
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on 9 August 2017
The Phantasy Quintet is beautiful, instantly recognizable as a Vaughan-Williams composition. Similarly, the two string quartets are very enjoyable, even though the second bears testament to his wartime experiences. The performance is superb, but, then one would expect nothing less from the Maggini Quartet.
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on 15 June 2017
Deeply beautiful playing and music.
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on 28 November 2001
This is great playing from a great quartet - plus Garfield Jackson for the quintet. Listening to the disc, especially the 2nd quartet leaves one emotionally drained. Listening to this live recently, a founder string playing member of the BBCSO, who had played under VW, said "they play like a true quartet" Don't miss it - worth it even if it was a full price disc.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 January 2011
No need to duplicate the reviews of others, enough to emphasise the quality of VW's music, immaculate performance by the Magginis, enhanced by an impressive clarity of recording. Vaughan Williams folk music influences are present here in some of the jaunting rhythmns and melodies, as well as a French influence reminiscent of the magical sound-world of Delius at times. There are beautiful, serene, and ethereal moments here, especially via Jackson's shimmering viola in the Phantasy Quintet; there are also tougher, more sinewy sections, especially in the 2nd Quartet, reminiscent at times of Shostakovich, appropriately given its wartime gestation. Gramophone 'classic' recommendation, and Penguin Guide 'Rosette'. An essential purchase for all fans of VW, or English music in general.
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on 12 April 2013
I very much enjoyed this chamber music by Vaughan Williams...and hence, greatly recommend this CD to anyone who wishes to be enriched by his very unique sound world.
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on 13 November 2010
i bought this cd 1 year or so back + quickly dismissed it after several listens, as lesser String Quartet works by a much loved English composer. much of the writing by Vaughan Wilams clearly owed a debt to his early years tutors - Ravel + Bridge and inhabits a similar(for me) unbearably nostalagic, rather cloying "rustic" sound world some way from the pioneering early 20th C quartet works of Schoenberg, Webern + Bartok. much as i love Vaughan Williams Symphony no.5 + the Lark Ascending for instance for such late era romanticism - those work far better as they have the clarity + directess that the string quartets miss here . VW's string quartet writing was not his best medium of expression i feel - they're overwritten, derivative and conventional when compared to the extraordinary new sound worlds offered by the 2nd Viennese school (Schoenberg et al) at the same time.

this naxos cd is fine in itself , well recorded ,a bargain price,+ well played by the Magginis but the musical language might as well be from another sepia tinted world..harking back to late romanticism of the 19th Century ,not the 20th Century in which they were written. the UK s own leading composer from this era is arguably Benjamin Britten - who refined, the rather heavy quartet writing exemplified by Vaughan Williams + his UK contemporaries into far more modern, searching musical language more in keeping with acknowledged Quartet master composer Shostakovich. the two quartets by Szymanowski(on naxos w/Stravinsky) make a suitable comparison of music composed during this era, with equally dense at times more astringent writing than VW's quartets that might lead people on the way to Bartok' six piercing + angular folk derived modernist quartets.

Addendum 4 april 2011:
further listens essentially confirm my original thoughts, are all absolutely fine works for existing fans of VW's nostalgic + often moving music. the Second Quartet definitely earns the release a third star - as it probes deeper, being written in the shadow of WW2 and is a far better work both thematically + contains a darker more contemporary soundworld than the earlier folk derived +rather quaint earlier works also here.

however, i still feel its all rather insular + dated i'm afraid - go insead for the quartets of Britten, Weill,Shostakovich then onto Bartok + Webern if you havent already.
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on 3 December 2013
This was a cd we had previously owned but lost, so we re-ordered it. The disc was in mint condition and the music lovely.
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on 20 April 2003
Avoiding the bangs and crashes this sustained record of chamber music still manages to induce andrenalin form the opening bars.
Highy recommended. Marvellous in fact
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on 25 August 2014
very good value
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