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DAVIES, P.M.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Maggini Quartet)

Naxos 8.557396

   International Record Review, January 2012, January 2009
   Fanfare, April 2008
   International Record Review, December 2005, November 2005
   Philadelphia Daily News, December 2004
   The New York Times, December 2004
   XL (the weekly magazine of the Austin American-Statesman), December 2004, December 2004
   Nottingham Evening Post, November 2004
   The Daily Telegraph (Australia), November 2004
   BBC Music Magazine, November 2004
   Gramophone, October 2004
   MusicWeb International, October 2004
   Gramophone, October 2004
   Gramophone, January 2004
   Splendid E-zine (

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Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, January 2012

MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Maggini Quartet) 8.557396
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 (Maggini Quartet) 8.557397
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 5 and 6 (Maggini Quartet) 8.557398
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 7 and 8 (Maggini Quartet) 8.557399
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Naxos Quartets Nos. 9 and 10 (Maggini Quartet) 8.557400

I have found listening to these ten quartets an absorbing experience, at the end of which I can only suggest that listeners explore them for themselves. The performances by the musicians for whom they were written and coached by the composer, are exemplary… © 2012 International Record Review

Jed Distler, January 2009

The Maggini Quartet plays on the highest level and stands out for its masterful control of timbres and dynamics, especially in passages where the textures are delicate and cruelly exposed. Naxos provides excellent sound and detailed annotations by the composer.

Fanfare, April 2008

View PDF, November 2005

"In 1997, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934) announced that his Eighth Symphony would be his last and that he would concentrate much of his musical energies over the next few years to creating a series of ten string quartets. Judy Arnold, Maxwell Davies' manager, suggested to Naxos CEO and founder Klaus Heymann that he record the cycle. Heymann went one better and agreed not only to produce and distribute the works but also to commission the entire set. Maxwell Davies then suggested calling the works the Naxos Quartets to celebrate the collaboration-the first time in the history of recorded music that a composer has chosen to write and name a series of works after a record label. The official release on Tuesday of the quartets one and two in this unique project is the first happy fruit of this creative venture. Naxos will release the recordings of the entire series over the next five years.

All of the quartets are being recorded by the Maggini Quartet, one of Britain's finest chamber groups, who premiered the first Naxos Quartet at the Wigmore Hall in London on October 20th, 2002 to much acclaim and debuted the second at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music on July 11th, 2003 to equally glowing reviews.

"What compelled us to accept was how utterly unique this project is: a formal contractual arrangement between a composer, a string quartet, and a record company for ten quartets over five years," says David Angel, violinist for the Maggini. "This is remarkable, and, as far as I know, unprecedented."

Critical reaction to the Naxos Quartets CD in the United Kingdom, where it was released in October, has been laudatory. Gramophone editor James Jolly made the disc one of his "editor's choice" picks for October, calling it "a magnificent start to what promises to be a rewarding project" that "sets out its stall with audacity and verve." Anthony Holden, writing in The Observer, describes the Quartets as "elegant, accessible, full of mood swings." Paul Driver, in his four-star review in The Sunday Times, singled out the Maggini Quartet for having "brilliant command of the idiom."

Maxwell Davies was named Master of the Queen’s Music in the United Kingdom in March 2004, an honor that acknowledges his unique and varied contributions to concert music over the past 40 years. Best known for his music-theatre work Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969), which depicts the mental deterioration of King George III through unorthodox vocal writing, wildly provocative stage direction, and hallucinogenic musical allusions, Maxwell Davies has written across the widest gamut of musical genre and in many styles. He has written numerous operas, full-length ballets, music-theatre works, and oratorios.

His huge output of orchestral music includes eight symphonies, hailed by The Times of London as being "the most important symphonic cycle since Shostakovich," the last of which being the Antarctic Symphony, for which he visited the Antarctic in 1997. He has written concertos for violin, trumpet, piano, horn and piccolo, and the ten 'Strathclyde Concertos' (written for the principal players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra), as well as some lighter orchestral works, such as An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise ("the most performed piece of contemporary music") Mavis in Las Vegas and Swinton Jig. Major works for chorus, soloists and orchestra include The Three Kings, Job and The Jacobite Rising.

Maxwell Davies is also active as a conductor and has recently finished ten years as Composer/Conductor of both the BBC Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, and is Composer Laureate with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He has also conducted many orchestras in Europe and North America, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Russian National Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra."

Philadelphia Daily News, December 2004

The New York Times, December 2004

Here are the first two chapters in a 10-installment "novel" of linked quartets by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who turned 70 this year. They manage to combine intellectual rigor and impressionistic evocations of place (Orkney, Scotland) and time (Sir Peter's own life) in wistful, thoughtful landscapes of music that whet a listener's appetite for the rest of the story.

Michael Barnes
XL (the weekly magazine of the Austin American-Statesman), December 2004

Here are the first two chapters in a 10-installment "novel" of linked quartets by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who turned 70 this year. They manage to combine intellectual rigor and impressionistic evocations of place (Orkney, Scotland) and time (Sir Peter's own life) in wistful, thoughtful landscapes of music that whet a listener's appetite for the rest of the story.

Richard Scheinin, December 2004

Here are the first two chapters in a 10-installment "novel" of linked quartets by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who turned 70 this year. They manage to combine intellectual rigor and impressionistic evocations of place (Orkney, Scotland) and time (Sir Peter's own life) in wistful, thoughtful landscapes of music that whet a listener's appetite for the rest of the story.

Peter Palmer
Nottingham Evening Post, November 2004
UK Naxos Quotes December 2004
"And the Magginis sound quite magnificent."

Matthew Rye
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), November 2004

"There is a real emotional and gestural integrity to this music, played with inspired insight and confidence by the Maggini Quartet, and even if the melodic and rhythmic ideas take a while – and repeated hearing – to absorb, it is easy to become entrapped by the spell of Maxwell Davies’s sense of atmosphere and expressive force. Not easy listening by any standards, but immensely rewarding."

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, October 2004

"If this initial instalment is anything to go by, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s ambitious series of 10 Naxos Quartets is already shaping up to be quite a journey. Not only does the septuagenarian composer rise superbly to the technical challenges of the medium, the first two movements of the First Quartet evince a formal strength, expressive scope and thematic ingenuity that launch the cycle in sure-footed fashion; both attain a dramatic and emotional resolution in some arresting unison writing. The compact concluding scherzo could hardly provide a bolder contrast; its ghostly, Will-‘o-the-wisp dialogue will re-emerge in the Third Quartet.

Having attended the London première of the Second Quartet just a couple of weeks after the date of this recording, I must say it was gratifying to be so deeply absorbed afresh by Maxwell Davies’s eloquent inspiration. There are four movements this time, the second and third of which comprise a self-contained diptych (and the former’s recitative first half harks back to No. 1’s Largo centerpiece). The outer movements are more expansive. An expectant Lento introduction leads to a bracing Allegro, its progress stimulating and satisfyingly proportioned. The Lento flessible finale is finer still: a memorably serene and utterly inevitable essay.

The Magginis are most accurate and cogent guides, realistically recorded within the sympathetic acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk. A most rewarding coupling."

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"There is hope for contemporary music yet. Naxos has embarked on its most laudable enterprise to date, the commissioning and recording of a series of string quartets by that ex-enfant terrible, Peter Maxwell Davies. Moreover, the chosen ensemble is the youthful, expert Maggini Quartet, which has already established its credentials in a series of recordings for Naxos (including Bridge, Bax, Moeran, Bliss and Vaughan Williams). Maxwell Davies brings with him tougher terrain, though. It is a pleasure to report that this disc is almost beyond criticism.

Great also that the author of the booklet notes is none other that Maxwell Davies himself, letting us into his world and offering eminently followable listening guides. Further information about the composer can be found on his superb website, MaxOpus (

The first Naxos Quartet dates from 2002. Dedicated to Maxwell Davies' manager of 27 years, Judy Arnold, it was premiŠred by the Maggini Quartet at the Wigmore Hall in October 2002. No surprise, perhaps, that the figure of Haydn is there in the background, especially in the sonata-form machinations of the first movement: Allegro, complete with Adagio introduction. Maxwell Davies links the very opening with the parallel point in Beethoven's F sharp major piano sonata - too much of a stretch for my imagination). The ghostly introduction gives way to a rigorous, angular exposition that clearly means business. The Maggini Quartet captures the flighty aspect of this music beautifully and just listen to the fragmentary chordal passage around six minutes in, how marvellously it is balanced, how in tune . There is a real lyrical undercurrent detectable here.

The Largo begins as a Passacaglia, interrupted by a tremolo solo cello. Maxwell Davies presents the listener with two `types' of music, slow and stately (`reminiscent of Jacobean dance music, as if a chest of viols were subtly present' - Maxwell Davies) and its violent extreme ‘other side’, elusive, explosive and fragmentary with large timbral contrasts. The two types eventually effect an understanding.

After two movements each over 13 minutes duration, the finale is a mere two minutes long. Suggested, ‘by a strong breeze through dry heather’, the composer himself says it is ‘too short’, evaporating before anything much has happened to its material. Its primary function is to act as a veil-like counterfoil to the long first two movements, but it also reaches forward, to be ‘brought back from the stratosphere’ in the Third Quartet.

The Second Quartet, first performed in the Pump Room, Cheltenham in July 2003, is a fine composition. A slow introduction defines registral spaces to be filled in later; a D minor cadence ‘signposts clearly the end of the first subject group’. Audible formal coherence is obviously important to the composer, then. Berg used similar procedures (most obviously in the Piano Sonata, Op. 1), an interesting reference as some of the more intense passages recall Bergian expressionism without making overt reference to the harmonic language.

As far as any reference to Haydnesque playfulness goes, this is the play of a child that can easily become petulant and impatient.

The slow movement (Lento flessibile) begins with a lovely, beautifully recorded sniff (presumably from the first violinist). Here Bergian expressionism is at its height (listen out also for the wonderful feeling of stasis at around 4’24). The intense dotted rhythms of the short (4’45) Allegro third movement pave the way for a second ‘Lento flessible’. Balancing the first movement in length, this shows Maxwell Davies as a master of his craft. Textures are shifting, but beautifully rather than restfully so. It is like listening to a slowly breathing organism, and the control the Maggini Quartet summons up in creating this image is remarkable. I remain somewhat dissatisfied by the very end, a crescendo of intensity as well as of volume, on a unison, the effect of which is almost dismissive of the listener.

But this is a superb, vitally important disc. Naxos is to be congratulated on their foresight in aiding the creation of a cycle of quartets that promises so much. The world premiere of Naxos Quartet No. 5 (and the London premiere of No. 4) will take place at the Wigmore Hall, London on Wednesday, 20 October 2004."

James Jolly
Gramophone, October 2004

"This first instalment of a 10-quartet cycle, composed by the current Master of the Queen’s Music and commissioned by Naxos, sets out its stall with audacity and verve. The Maggini’s experience in exploring dark corners of English chamber music stands them in excellent stead for the project; they have been coached by the composer, and their live performances of this music give it an easy eloquence that grabs the ear and won’t let go."

Gramophone, January 2004

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Christian Carey
Splendid E-zine (

"Talk about supporting the arts! Classical label Naxos has commissioned ten string quartets from eminent English composer Peter Maxwell Davies for the Maggini String Quartet. . . The first recording in this series has just been released. It shows Maxwell Davies at the height of his compositional powers, an adroit stylistic polyglot, mixing modern and post-modern techniques along with references to English folk song and traditional dance music, as well as lofty compositional predecessors: Beethoven, Haydn and Chopin. Davies does not shy away from enigma, as the quirkily effective pianissimo Scherzo that concludes Naxos Quartet No. 1 attests, but he also demonstrates tremendous skill at pacing a dramatic narrative. In this vein, I'm particularly fond of the second quartet's opening movement, which features a beautifully questing introductory Lento section, followed by a haunting Schoebergian Allegro."

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