Top positive review
37 people found this helpful
Vaughan Williams' chamber works at bargain price
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!