Bax: String Quartet No. 3; Lyrical Interlude; Adagio ma non troppo ‘Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan’ (from String Quartet in E)

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COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; Lyrical Interlude; Adagio ma non troppo ‘Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan’ (from String Quartet in E)
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555953
Anyone who has ever fallen for the brilliant and subtle colours of Arnold Bax’s orchestral works may well wonder how he copes with the much more sober palette of string chamber music. In the case of his third and last quartet the answer is that he compensates with sheer richness of melodic invention. The piece contains enough striking ideas for at least a couple of symphonies, and for Bax in the Thirties (not long before he bade ‘Farewell to my Youth’ in his valedictory autobiography) it is a remarkably serene, even happy work, inspired by a beautiful summer in England and memories of spring in Ireland. The powerful scherzo, which shrugs off a much more haunted trio (with a curious quote from Elgar), is especially fine.

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The two other pieces are among Bax’s earliest and most richly melodious love-letters to Ireland. The Lyrical Interlude is filled with warmly romantic, archetypal Baxian melody. The Adagio makes slightly more halting progress, but its tunes and its magically hushed close are memorable. None of these pieces is otherwise available. How splendid to hear them in such full-hearted and virtuoso performances. Michael Oliver