Maggini Quartet, Purcell Room, South Bank, London

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The Independent Culture

Peter Maxwell Davies's Naxos Quartets are coming on rather impressively. The Sixth had its world premiere in this recital, which was part of the South Bank's "Max" festival.

Peter Maxwell Davies's Naxos Quartets are coming on rather impressively. The Sixth had its world premiere in this recital, which was part of the South Bank's "Max" festival.

If few would deny that Maxwell Davies has sometimes sacrificed quality to quantity, it has to be said that the ratio of real inspiration to workaday skill has been pretty favourable in the Naxos Quartets so far.

After the "relative slight" nature (the composer's words) of the Fourth and Fifth, the Sixth is a substantial work, 35 minutes long, in six movements. The allegro first movement seems to suffer from Maxwell Davies's tendency in faster music to offer rather bland material in a hectic, restless flux that doesn't really go anywhere: or perhaps this movement simply flew by too fast to take in when first heard.

From then, the new quartet acquires its own character and has some strong material. The short second movement, a scherzo based on an Advent plainsong, has a delightfully eerie effect. The third - another, longer scherzo - plays much more successfully than the first, and (seemingly, in this case, entirely deliberately) is on the edges of coherence, with boldly exaggerated lyrical splashes, followed by the becalmed simplicity, but then growing intensity, of the trio section before a varied reprise of the scherzo.

The fourth movement is a powerfully sustained example of the kind of slow, sustained string counterpoint that Davies has always done well. Short "recitatives" for each instrument are followed by a final passage in a highly moving F minor. We have reached the work's heart and soul.

After this, the fifth and sixth movements provide an appropriately lighter and effective conclusion.

The Maggini gave this premiere performance with every sign of already being inside the work musically as well as rising to its technical challenges. It also offered accounts of Haydn's Op 76, No 1 G-major Quartet and Mozart's D-minor, K421 that must be among the most vivid, intelligent, witty and, on occasion, musically risk-taking live performances of classical quartets I've ever heard. Go and hear these players; it's unlikely they'll disappoint.

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