Walton: Piano Quartet in D minor; String Quartet in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Walton
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Quartet in D minor; String Quartet in A minor
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554646
‘Today, Walton has established his claim as a composer from whom another major work of the highest importance and originality may be expected at any time.’ So declared Hinrichsen’s yearbook of 1944. Lofty expectations indeed. By 1946 another critic was still ‘looking for the work that will confirm his greatness’. What they were all waiting for – in vain, as it turned out – was Walton’s own Peter Grimes. Instead, they got the String Quartet of 1947, which almost passed without comment. It is absurdly neglected, but it brilliantly encapsulates the essence of Walton, the terse craftsman and the sensual melancholic.

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There are only a handful of recordings in the catalogue, and the Maggini’s performance is hugely persuasive. Its view of the work is salt-fresh, and it makes it sound so enjoyable to play. Violist Martin Outram brings a specially intense quality to the Lento – listen to his beautifully phrased second subject – and balance and ensemble are fine-tuned. The group explodes into the Presto, with just the right level of attack and pungency of sound – a quality it brings to the jazzy riffs of the Piano Quartet’s Allegro molto too.

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If the 1947 Quartet has vague echoes of Ravel reaching us via Vaughan Williams, then they are clearer in the earlier Piano Quartet (1921). The Maggini swings through its fluid narrative with febrile energy, It is grand enough for its Franckian sweep and scope, but capable of the raw edges needed for the jazzy scherzo and Allegro, where Stravinsky seems to grab hold of an English Country Garden. Peter Donohoe may not have been recorded with a full enough sound, but his contribution shows an unerring instinct for what we can now hear is visionary music, solving just the problems composers wrestle with today.