Rubbra: String Quartet No. 1 in F minor, Op. 35; No. 3, Op. 112; No. 4, Op. 150

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COMPOSERS: Rubbra
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in F minor, Op. 35; No. 3, Op. 112; No. 4, Op. 150
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572555

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English music of the last century is knee-deep in composers proclaimed by their admirers to be ‘undervalued’, to the extent that the word risks becoming debased. Not in Edmund Rubbra’s case, however. If you like your music written by a strong, but not strident personality, with faultlessly clear and clean technique to match, then these three string quartets offer something special.
 
The First Quartet’s central slow movement is a benchmark statement: an elegy unfolding in long spans, spare but not austere in manner, framed by its opening and closing viola solos (superbly played by Martin Outram). After that, the quick, short finale is an oddity: added in 1946 to replace its 1934 predecessor, it sounds like half a movement only, with a perfunctory ending, as if Rubbra had suddenly given up on the idea. The Second Quartet (1963) again has a fine central Adagio, plus another short finale which this time convincingly rounds out the work. And the two-movement Fourth, a memorial to a young American critic and supporter, shows that in his old age, the composer was still in total command of his beautifully imagined sound-world. These performances are as expected from the fine Maggini Quartet: firm-toned but never too severe, balanced to near-perfection. Malcolm Hayes