Ireland: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

COMPOSERS: Ireland
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Ireland
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557777
date from 1897, when he was becoming a pupil of Stanford (who didn’t think much of Quartet No. 1). He was only 18 and they are hardly characteristic. Overall, they are the required essays into the vocabulary of Dvo?ák and, to a greater extent, Brahms, whose imprint is deepest in Quartet No. 1. What’s surprising about both these quartets is how much real music they contain, nonetheless. Nowhere does Ireland just go through the motions, and the variation finale of Quartet No. 2 shows an innate mastery of compositional craft. Altogether these quartets stand with Vaughan Williams’s early chamber music as delightful examples of English

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fin-de-siècle Brahmsianism. It’s a shame there were to be no mature quartets from this composer: the little quartet arrangement of The Holy Boy, charming though it is, hardly makes up for that.

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Exactly the same programme was recorded for ASV by the Holywell Ensemble, but the Maggini Quartet here knock spots off that perfectly decent version. The spring of the rhythms, beauty of phrasing and their excellently-chosen tempos do a great deal more for these quartets, revealing their full potential. Warmly recommended. Calum MacDonald