Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, January 2012

RUBBRA, E.: String Quartets Nos. 1, 3 and 4 (Maggini Quartet) 8.572555
RUBBRA, E.: String Quartet No. 2 / Amoretti / Ave Maria Gratia Plena / Piano Trio in 1 Movement (C. Daniels, Roscoe, Maggini Quartet) 8.572286

Rubbra’s music, once absorbed will never leave you and the Maggini’s performance would have earned his undying admiration…A most strongly recommended and important pair of CDs… © 2012 International Record Review

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2011

The Third Quartet (1963) has the song at its heart. In I, there is some (likely incidental) resemblance to Shostakovich in the half-steps and flattened scale degrees. II is searching and unsettled but never pessimistic…The balance, as I said, is a little off, but the overall sound is good, and the quartet plays with subtle phrasing and good variety of tone. Notes in English.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, May 2011

The Magginis continue their exploration of British quartets with music by Rubbra

This disc completes the Naxos cycle of the four quartets of Edmund Rubbra. They make an exceptionally well co-ordinated group, superbly realised here by the Magginis in first-rate sound.

The First Quartet was written in 1934 but the composer became dissatisfied with it, and it was only the encouragement of Vaughan Williams that led Rubbra in 1946 to revise the piece, writing a new finale. Already in the first movement the fluidity of Rubbra’s style is effectively presented, and the second is deeply elegiac, evidently a tribute to Rubbra’s friend and mentor, Gustav Holst, who in 1934 had just died. The new 1946 finale then makes an effective conclusion, light and chattering with a lyrical central section and a neat cut-off at the end.

The Third Quartet was written for the Allegri Quartet in 1963 and first performed by them at the Cheltenham Festival the following year. Here one appreciates even more clearly what members of the Maggini Quartet say in the booklet-note: that Rubbra’s quartet-writing displays satisfying organic development in the way that the themes evolve. Again, the opening Largo is deeply thoughtful, leading to a chattering Allegretto. The Adagio slow movement opens with a poignant viola solo which grows ever more thoughtful up to the climax, while the finale adopts a lighter tone with a repeated-note theme and striking syncopated writing.

The Fourth Quartet of 1977 was one of Rubbra’s last major works. It is the darkest of the series, predominantly slow and meditative. The first of the two substantial movements opens with an Andante moderato, leading into an Allegretto scherzando, generally gentle; the second movement is marked Adagio e con molta espressione and is the darkest and deepest movement of all. It makes a moving culmination to a fine work. This disc marks yet another superb contribution to the Magginis’ survey of British string quartets.

John France
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Of all the major British composers, Edmund Rubbra is the one with whom I have struggled to come to terms. I have listened to all his symphonies over the years and cannot relate to them in the same way that I do to his Northamptonshire contemporaries William Alwyn and Malcolm Arnold. Furthermore, I have to confess that I have barely touched the surface of his chamber and instrumental music: in fact I had never heard any of his String Quartets until the present disc dropped onto my doorstep. Yet, as I often say to people—you cannot hear, appreciate and enjoy everything. Even the most prolific of listeners to the gramophone and its technical successors will have lacunae in their auditory adventures. One of mine happens to be Rubbra. However, the opportunity to hear these three string quartets was not to be missed: it was an adventure into the unknown.

The key thing to bear in mind when approaching this music is that these three quartets are quite different in ethos. Summed up very briefly, the First is tonal in its conception; the Third is more ‘spicy’ and the Fourth is densely-packed and reveals its secrets slowly.

The First String Quartet was composed in 1934—the year of the death of Holst, Elgar and Delius. It was a time of great development for Rubbra when he was exploring new and more developed forms. The following year he would write his First Symphony. The liner-notes tell us that the composer was dissatisfied with the quartet and was close to abandoning it. However Vaughan Williams encouraged him to make an extensive revision and to rewrite the ‘finale’. This was completed in 1946. The work is dedicated to the elder composer with the inscription—‘To R.V.W. whose persistent interest in the original material of this work has led me to the present revisions and additions’.

The quartet commences with an energetic ‘allegro moderato’ which begins reflectively but opens out into more adventurous counterpoint. There is an assurance and competence about these out-workings that suggests confidence and originality.

The core of the work is the ‘lento’ which is regarded as an elegy. It is heartfelt music that manages to eschew any form of ‘folkery’ or obvious debt to Elgar: there is a depth and beauty here that is entirely original. Adrian Yardley is right in suggesting that this is ‘one of the most beautiful movements in any English string quartet written before the Second World War’. It does not stretch the imagination to see this as a response to the death of the triumvirate of composers mentioned. However, Rubbra was a pupil of Holst and his death must have been the most significant to him. It is a fitting elegy.

I do not know if there is a recording of the ‘original’ last movement of this Quartet; however the present ‘finale’ is an impressive and light-hearted rondo which is based on a theme from the ‘lento’.

The Editor has wisely insisted that whilst ‘the First Quartet is dedicated to Vaughan Williams don’t for one moment imagine that it will sound like that composer.’ However he has noted that there are ‘a few fleeting moments where it coasts close to that green and pleasant land…’ This is a sentiment that I agree with entirely. Certainly this quartet would seem to be the easiest to approach, if new to these works (as I am).

Edmund Rubbra’s Third String Quartet, Op.112, completed in 1963/64, is another step on the composer’s musical journey. The sleeve-notes suggest that ‘many’ have commented on the vocal nature of this quartet. The work would appear to be underscored by a quotation from the great Doctor of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas. He wrote, ‘Song is the leap of mind in the eternal breaking-out into sound’. I am not too sure exactly what the learned doctor meant by this aphorism, but Rubbra has glossed this by suggesting that ‘Song, lyrical song, is indeed the motivating force of this work’. Certainly this atmosphere is carried by the work’s largely contrapuntal nature. It is clear that Tudor polyphony was one of the key influences on the composer’s style. Stephen Johnson has described the quartet as a search for a home key and much of the drama arises from this quest.

The opening is probably also the highlight or the emotional heart of the work. Slow and commanding, this deeply moving music pushes toward release in a jaunty ‘allegretto’. The slow movement, which follows without a break is ‘fugal’ in design. Once again this is powerfully moving writing that is both rich and sonorous. However, the final ‘allegro leggiero’ dispels this profundity. Here is music that fairly bounces along: perhaps there are references to the earlier ‘allegretto’ music from the middle movement?

The Fourth Quartet, Op.150 was composed as late as 1977 at a time when (in my opinion) much ‘modern’ chamber music was virtually un-listenable: certainly many works had abandoned any sense of tonality or lyricism in favour of innovation and shock-value. It was one of the composer’s last major works.

The Quartet is laid out in two movements; however, the first is subdivided into two major sections—an ‘andante’ and a contrasting ‘allegretto scherzando’. The second movement is an ‘elegiac’ adagio.

It is an austere work that does not exude much light and optimism—at least not until the final pages. Perhaps this is due to the ‘fundamental’ melodic interval being the ‘seventh’? However, the terseness of the musical language is matched by the tight formal structure that ensures the listener’s interest is never lost. There is no sense that this music is of an improvisatory nature. Every note counts. It is a moving tribute that surely stands the test of time. There is a depth here that was patently absent in much music written by Rubbra’s more adventurous contemporaries. Although this quartet was dedicated to the composer Robert Simpson it was actually inspired by the death of the young American musicologist Bennett Tarshish (1940–1972), who had recently died from acute diabetes.

There is no doubt that all three quartets are played with sympathy and enthusiasm by the Maggini. The disc makes for an impressive addition to the catalogue of British chamber music. I have already admitted that I have not heard these works prior to reviewing this CD; therefore I am not competent to compare and contrast other versions…Yet based on what I have heard on this present disc, I imagine that all Rubbra enthusiasts will demand this excellent Naxos release to complement the other two cycles.

David Hurwitz, March 2011

Back in my college days my music-loving friends and I would amuse ourselves perusing the letters section of Gramophone magazine, and every so often a desperately worded appeal would turn up, lamenting the “dearth of Rubbra symphony recordings.” Now it wasn’t as if people were lining up for Rubbra symphonies the way they lined up for the launch of, say, the I-Pod, but if the orchestral works weren’t exactly thick on the field, the quartets never even made it to the letters section at all (that I noticed). Perhaps they should have; they are fine, if imperfect works.

Rubbra should have been a “natural” for the quartet medium: a natural contrapuntist and a composer of great seriousness, even nobility, this would seem to be just his cup of tea. However, as with the symphonies, Rubbra’s ability to construct his first movements and adagios effectively (and often quite beautifully here) is compromised by his helplessness with finales. His feeling for music was rhetorical rather than dramatic, and in Quartets Nos. 1 and 3 the last movements (of three) disappoint, with the former’s being too short and the latter’s too light. In the Fourth quartet, which has only two movements, Rubbra wisely says “the heck with it” and places the adagio last.

The Maggini Quartet has made many excellent recordings of the English quartet repertoire for Naxos, and this one is no exception. They bring plenty of expressive intensity to those heartfelt adagios, and phrase Rubbra’s intertwining contrapuntal lines with winning clarity, while avoiding excessive density. The engineering is also very good: unobtrusive and natural. This music is well worth getting to know, even if Rubbra’s relentless earnestness sometimes seems to overwhelm his inspiration.

Kevin Filipski
Times Square, February 2011

CD of the Week

Even among connoisseurs of British music, Edmund Rubbra (1901–1986) is woefully obscure. Although he composed one of the great symphony cycles of the entire 20th century—11 written between 1937 and 1979—I don’t think there’s even been a single Rubbra composition on a concert program in New York. So only recordings will suffice for anyone remotely interested in this accomplished master, and this CD of three of his four quartets—played superbly by the Maggini Quartet—is a must-hear. Alternately muscular and tender, with eloquent slow movements alternately with energetic faster ones, these quartets show Rubbra at his best.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2011

Still sadly neglected, the music of Edmund Rubbra did not fit conveniently into the music establishment’s expectations of British composition in the first half of the 20th century. Many attempts have been made to reverse that situation, but his was a highly personal musical voice that takes time before it will offer up the key to his musical language. Maybe the First String Quartet is as good a place as any to start your search for that key. He was not satisfied when he heard its first performance, and it was only after a new fourth movement had been written—some many years later—that the composer was happy to have the work published. You can detect influences of his mentor, Gustav Holst, and of Vaughan Williams who gave Rubbra much encouragement. Certainly if you enjoy the music of either composer, this quartet will readily enter over your threshold. The Third came thirty years later, its character more hard-edged, its melodic content not as easily assimilated, though at the centre of three linked movements there is an outburst I have viewed as a highly passionate elegy. The Fourth marked the composer’s final major score before his death in 1986. In memory of a young American music critic who had begun to champion Rubbra’s music, its two linked movements are quiet, almost to the point of resignation, and I feel it is his own farewell, the ending drifting into space. I am sure these quartets will never enjoy more perceptive or ardent performances, the Maggini continuing their unequalled series of British music. The recording quality is superb.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group