Bax: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555282
For a while, Bax’s First Quartet was one of the most popular of all British chamber works. Then, after the Second World War, it simply dropped out of the repertoire. Bax’s falling prestige, coupled with the newly fashionable distaste for things Romantic, probably had a lot to do with it. But as the Maggini Quartet’s fresh, enthusiastic and very accomplished performance shows, it’s worth more than an occasional revival. Likeable, direct and unusually tuneful, it manages to salute Dvorák, Elgar, Ravel and Irish folksong without ever sounding derivative or in any other way unsure of itself. Even those who aren’t normally drawn to Bax might find they warm to it. The Second Quartet is more complex and ambitious, but despite some fine moments (like the sombre threnody at the heart of the finale) it’s harder to see the complete picture. Bax didn’t lack good ideas; his problem was often in sustaining them, or in drawing interestingly variegated threads together convincingly. Still, convinced Baxians should find plenty to revel in here. As in the First Quartet, the Maggini’s performance is full of conviction, and the recording balances clarity and atmosphere to something like perfection. Stephen Johnson

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