LONDON, ENGLAND - The recent debut of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Naxos Quartet no.1 was met with great acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Deemed "the beginning of something big" by The Guardian's Erica Jeal, the first of ten in a highly-anticipated cycle of quartets to be composed by Maxwell Davies over the next five years was premiered by the Gramophone Award-Winning Maggini Quartet at Wigmore Hall on Wednesday, October 23, 2002.
Naxos, a leading classical music label, has commissioned the series of ten quartets in what has been seen as a bold move in the music world. In a unique collaboration of label, composer, and artist, Maxwell Davies is writing each piece to be performed specifically by the Maggini Quartet; after annual performances of the works at Wigmore Hall, the quartets will be committed to disc on the Naxos label. The composer's management initially approached Naxos with the idea for new chamber music by Maxwell Davies, who had desired to write string quartets for several years. Seeing a magnificent opportunity to advance in two of the label's key areas, British music and works by 21st century composers, Naxos quickly agreed, and a partnership was born. The Maggini Quartet, internationally known for its excellent interpretations of British music on the Naxos label, was the natural choice to debut and record the series. The quartets will be recorded and released in pairs, with the first CD slated to appear in the fall of 2003.
The evening at Wigmore Hall began early with an educational afternoon talk by Maxwell Davies, who spoke about his life and music. This was followed by a pre-concert talk featuring Maxwell Davies and the Maggini Quartet, who played illustrative excerpts of the first Naxos Quartet as the composer introduced his new work.
The concert commenced with Maxwell Davies' previous string quartet repertoire, including String Quartet Movement (1952), Little Quartet no.1 (1980), and Little Quartet no.2 (1977, rev. 1987). The smaller works were complemented by Haydn's Quartet in B-flat, op.71 no.1, played with "impeccable style" by the Maggini Quartet (Barry Millington, The Evening Standard).
Naxos Quartet no.1 began with the complex architecture and symmetry so characteristic of Maxwell Davies, with a double exposition in the first movement alluding to the form of classical string quartets. The second movement evoked a powerful feeling of calm with folk elements and an intermittent passacaglia. The innovative brilliance of Maxwell Davies displayed itself most prominently in the surprising third movement, a short scherzo that trailed off into the air before the thematic development was quite finished. The audience was left clamouring for more, a wish that the composer kindly will grant next year when he continues the theme in Quartet no.3.
The final verdict? According to Geoff Brown of The Times, the work was "a cause for joy: a substantial piece, meaty without being impenetrable, tickling both mind and ear." London, indeed--the world, eagerly awaits the next musical offerings from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Maggini Quartet, and Naxos.