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In the Studio                                   
November 25, 2003

Max with the Magginis
A moment of levity with Max and the Maggini Quartet.

Engineer Eleanor Thomason from K&A
Engineer Eleanor Thomason from K&A Productions.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Composer Max 'pouring' over the score.

ENGLAND:  On 30 September and 1-2 October, the Maggini Quartet joined forces with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and a recording team from K&A Productions to record Naxos Quartets Nos. 1 and 2.  The first two instalments in a cycle of ten quartets commissioned by Naxos, the works debuted last fall (Quartet No.1) and this summer (Quartet No. 2); the project has created an exciting opportunity for composer and ensemble to collaborate over an extended period of time to bring an entire cycle to life.

Second violinist David Angel reflects on his experiences at the recording session:

I have to admit that I felt a certain apprehension on the way to Potton Hall in Suffolk for our first Maxwell Davies recording.  This was to be the first of five recordings over the next five years, to record the ten 'Naxos' quartets which Sir Peter or Max, as he is called by his friends, is writing for us.  We were to record the first two, both huge works with passages of extreme difficulty that challenge the Quartet both severally and individually.  Max would be present at the recording and this was another reason for my initial nervousness.  This had nothing to do with playing his works to him.  We had had two very intensive days on each quartet with the composer: one private, followed by a public workshop at Christchurch College, Cantebury, organised by their head of music, Grenville Hancox.  We already know Max pretty well, and are sure of his musical intentions.  So why was I worried? 

There has been a certain ritual to our recordings which has worked very well.  We begin on the first morning by setting the sound and balance.  This can take anything up to three hours and involves tremendous work on the part of the K and A team, producer Andrew Walton and engineer Eleanor Thomason.  When we are all satisfied with this, we will perform a complete movement, and then listen to it like four ruthless critics.  At this point we will return to the studio and work through the movement, generally performing another complete take, and doing large sections in order to put down our best possible performance.  In doing this, we rely upon the ear and judgement of our producer, Andrew Walton.  He is a very fine musician with 'eagle' ears and we trust him completely.  But how will he react to having the composer present? Will it inhibit him in any way?  I needn't have worried.  Andrew may have prefaced some of his comments with: Do say if you disagree Max, but ....  Most of the time, Max kept serenely in the background, sometimes making very pertinent suggestions but never contradicting the producer.  Having composed the quartets and worked upon them very thoroughly with us,  I think that Max felt that his work was done and that he should let the recording take its course.  For the Quartet, however, it was both wonderful and reassuring to have him present.

At the end of each evening, when we had played ourselves into exhaustion, we would all go to one of the may fine hostelries near Potton Hall and enjoy a highly sociable and amusing meal together: the perfect way to unwind and to become ever better acquainted.  My abiding memory, however, will be of recording whole swathes of the marvellous 2nd quartet with Max sitting silently in the hall with us, pouring over his score.  Moments like that remind one just how extraordinary this project is.

The quartets will be debuted and recorded at a rate of two per year through 2007. 

For more information:
The Maggini Quartet Website
MaxOpus:  The Official Website of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies


Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group