Rawsthorne: String Quartets Nos 1-3; Theme and Variations for two violins

COMPOSERS: Rawsthorne
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Rawsthorne
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-3; Theme and Variations for two violins
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570136
Alan Rawsthorne (1905-71) had

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an eloquent, slightly cerebral

manner which was well suited to the

medium of the string quartet, and he composed three fine examples. The

First, written in 1939, has survived

as a single movement, an imaginative

sequence of variations; the Second,

of 1954, also has a set of variations

as the last of its four compact

movements. The Third Quartet of

1965, is perhaps the most impressive

in its conflation of four contrasting

sections (the plan is slightly obscured

by Naxos’s track listing) into a

continuous, coherent whole.

The Magginis, stalwart advocates

of British music, similarly seem to

have mastered the art of combining

four individuals with distinctive

sounds into a cohesive unit, precise

in tuning and ensemble. Compared

to the rival Flesch Quartet on ASV,

they display a more subtle variety

of vibrato, generally lightening the

texture but tightening the screw

more effectively at moments of

tension. And, whereas the Flesch

add to the three numbered works

an early, unpublished quartet, the

Maggini scores by including instead

the 1937 Theme and Variations for

two violins, a little masterpiece of

resourcefulness and invention. That’s

recorded with a slightly edgy quality,

but in the quartets the sound is

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outstandingly clear. Anthony Burton