Vaughan Williams: Phantasy Quintet; String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Phantasy Quintet; String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet; Garfield Jackson (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555300
Recordings of Vaughan Williams’s chamber music are thin on the ground. Typically, it is Naxos, with its increasingly authoritative list of English music recordings, that has taken it upon itself to plug the gap. It could not have done better than enlist the excellent Maggini Quartet, whose Naxos recording of Walton provided so many pleasant surprises. Although Vaughan Williams became a byword for reaction in his later years, there is much stimulating and even challenging music in his chamber output. The First String Quartet, like the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and the song cycle On Wenlock Edge, is the immediate product of Vaughan Williams’s lessons with Ravel in 1908, and reveals the working out of the French influence in its many echoes of Ravel’s own Quartet of 1902-3. The Phantasy Quintet followed in 1912, and a second quartet was written during the Second World War. The Maggini Quartet, as its Walton disc suggested it might be, is an exemplary interpreter. Its feel for Vaughan Williams’s folk-infused version of pastoral seems intuitive. At speed the players excel, for example in the rapid chopping rhythms of the Phantasy Quintet’s scherzo, exhilaratingly executed without loss of control or articulacy. They are equally adept in Vaughan Williams’s more pregnant, brooding movements, such as the highly charged Romance in the First Quartet or the spectral Romance in the second. The Music Group of London’s Seventies recording is there for purposes of comparison, but the Maggini disc is unquestionably the one to go for. Christopher Wood