MAXWELL DAVIES: Naxos Quartets Nos 5 & 6 (Maggini Quartet) (Naxos: 8.557398)
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Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934)
Naxos Quartets Nos. 5 and 6
Naxos Quartet No. 5 has the subtitle 'Lighthouses ofOrkney and Shetland', which refers not only to thedramatic nocturnal sweep of a lighthouse beam acrossdifferent textures of sea and shore, but to the variouslighthouse \calls" - each one can be identified by theindividual rhythm of its flashes of light.
There are two movements. The work opens with aslow introduction, of which the first note, B flat, is theunambiguous tonic of the whole work. The cello, at firstpizzicato, then arco, carries the main argument. A fastsonata section follows, in which I have tried to lead theear through quite complex and constant transformationsin such a way that it remains always clear how theexpansions and contractions of linear contour relate, andwhere in our journey we are in relation to the tonic, andto its dominant and subdominant, or their displacedsubstitutes. I regarded this as "play" - ludus - shades ofQuartet No. 4 - with the constantly changingilluminated surfaces and shapes of the wave, and therelative strengths of the lighthouses' sweeps of lightacross them. In Orkney and Shetland you can usuallysee several lighthouses at the same time when out at sea.
The exposition of the sonata ends with vigorous upwardscales on violins one and two, then four big crescendotremolos, the last with a long pause. The development isshort and dramatic, and extends and distorts gesture,rather than expanding the modal spectrum or changingthematic material in a new way. The recapitulation is amuch shortened version of both the introduction and theexposition, with the introductory material now playedpresto. A brief coda takes us to C minor - the "wrong"tonality with which to end, but the "right" place in theongoing process - the opening of the second movementresolves this, but returning to B flat. This is a slowmovement using the same material entirely, and withthe same form. This development is also aboutintensifying gesture, and here, at the end of therecapitulation builds the climax of the whole work. Thecoda goes right back to the opening of the firstmovement, and I thought of its ultimate fade-out as thesweeping beam of the North Ronaldsay light dissolvinginto the first light of dawn, a phenomenon I see, andenjoy, most days.
The quartet is dedicated to Thomas Daniel Schlee,composer, administrator and friend, with affection andgratitude.
Naxos Quartet No. 6 was written in December 2004and January 2005. It is an ambitious work of sixmovements - a counterbalance in the cycle of tenquartets to the relatively slight fourth and fifth. I haverecently been studying again Beethoven's late quartets,and, although I am well aware that I could never aspireto write work remotely approaching such a model, Itrust these studies show through positively in thepresent work.
The first movement is an allegro whose tonalitybecomes ever clearer, or, rather, relationships aregradually exposed between chords which will be morefully explored and fleshed out later. The secondmovement, based on an Advent plainsong, is entitledDominica Tertia Adventus, Antiphona, and is a shortscherzo and trio, in pizzicato. The third movement is asecond scherzo, with trio, of a more substantial nature,though still quite brief. The return of the scherzomaterial is varied, and prepares the listener for thefourth movement. The fourth movement is an adagiocontrasting sections of warm lyricism with a moredramatic and dissonant central section. Towards theend, each instrument has a recitative, during which theother three players hold sustained chords: the last barsof the movement are the first in the Naxos Quartets tohave a key-signature, of four flats, for F minor. It wasChristmas Day when I wrote the fifth movement, beforemovements three and four, and it is based on aChristmas plainsong, and becomes a simple carol. Thefinale is quick, and takes up again material from the firstmovement, expanding and transforming this.
The quartet is dedicated to Alexander Goehr.?® 2005 Peter Maxwell Davies