Britten¥Maw

COMPOSERS: Britten,Maw
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Britten,Maw
WORKS: Britten: String Quartet No. 3; Three Divertimenti
PERFORMER: Maw: String Quartet No. 3
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 065
Britten’s last quartet has been lucky in its recordings since the pioneering version by the Amadeus (on Decca). A valedictory work, its often attenuated textures and harmonies are far from glamorous and very exposed, so there’s nowhere for the performers to hide, especially in the central movement, ‘Solo’, where the first violin scales stratospheric heights. With the Coull there’s a sense of searching and effort, which suits the pain of the music more than the complete technical assurance of the Belcea Quartet (on EMI). This also gives the Coull Quartet an edgy feel in the following ‘Burlesque’, where the influence of Britten’s friend Shostakovich is strongest, and the trio really does sound like a wonky musical box. There’s something of this in the Maggini Quartet’s version on Naxos as well. In the final bleak Passacaglia, the Belcea seem almost over-optimistic, while the Coull expose the raw nerve-endings with their less blended sound and rubato.

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The Maw also ends with a Passacaglia, though it’s much richer in texture than Britten’s, passionate rather than resigned. That’s true of the Quartet as a whole: it’s full of long melodic lines, which even approach the melismatic lushness of Scenes and Arias (see review, p73) in the cadenzas of the second movement. But there’s also energy in the fast movements, both muted scurrying, and more insistent irregular rhythms. The Coull respond to all the facets of the work – it was written for them – and, like the Britten, it’s warmly recorded. Martin Cotton