MAXWELL DAVIES: Naxos Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 (Maggini Quartet) (Naxos: 8.557397)
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Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934)
Naxos Quartets Nos. 3 and 4
The intention with Naxos Quartet No. 3 was to create awork exploring the compositional potentialities of amagic square of Saturn (3 x 3) within one of Mars(5 x 5) within one of Venus (7 x 7). This would all bedeveloped alongside an independent square of the Moon(9 x 9), with the associated isometric disciplines, basedupon the plainsong proper to the celebration of StCecilia on 22nd November, 'Audi filia et vide'. In thisway I set myself creative problems whose intricacy andcomplexity posed new and formidable challenges. Thisconcentrated attempt at virtuoso composition owedmuch to a restudy of Bach's two and three partkeyboard inventions, and was intended, eventually, tobe an honest contribution to musical literaturehonouring its patron Saint. However, during the courseof composition, March and April 2003, external eventsaffected the Quartet's unfolding: the invasion of Iraq.
The first movement, March, starts with a shortexposition (C minor), followed by a varied repeat: thereis little hint thus far of any music suggestive of the title.
The following development, however, graduallytransforms the material into a military march of afatuous and splintered nature, after which there is, inplace of any expected recapitulation, a brief, slowmeditation, then by way of a coda, a ghost of the march,in a very slow tempo, drained of all energy, forms atonal resolution in the correct key: the bones of themarch are now exposed as a strict mensural canon. Themovement dismisses this with a brief 'maestoso'.
The second movement, a slow In Nomine, does notat first make use of the 'Gloria Tibi Trinitas' plainsongcommon to Renaissance In Nomines, but draws heavilyon their polyphonic techniques, while exploring furtherramifications of the plainsong with magic squaresencountered in the first movement. When the musiccomes to a resolution on a low G major chord, theviolins take up the argument left hanging in the air at theclose of the first Naxos Quartet - there it evaporatedinto the highest ether and silence. Now, in the course ofthis material's swift descent from upon high, we areprepared for the appearance of the 'In Nomine' melodyin its original form, going back to John Taverner's earlysixteenth century 'Gloria Tibi Trinitas' Mass and theorgan transcription in the contemporaneous MullinerBook which uses that section of the Mass setting thewords 'Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini'(Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord): thisIn Nomine is quietly distorted and dissonant, that is,very much not 'in Nomine'.
The third movement, Four Inventions and a Hymn,stands in for a Scherzo. It takes up the thread left fromthe first Naxos Quartet in the previous movement,borrowing more of the techniques of Bach's Inventions,but the character is burlesque, becoming even grotesquetowards the end, where the short Hymn is marked'stucchevole' (cloying, nauseating).
The finale, Fugue, begins with successiveinstrumental entries in period style, recalling the typicalprocedure of the form. This is soon interrupted andreplaced by quicker, more dynamic music, suggestingthe Italian 'fuga' (flight) rather than the form Bachperfected. The movement ends with a return to theinitial slow tempo, with part only of a cumulative stretto- one has to imagine that the period-style fugue will,meantime, have (silently!) progressed thus far. This isanother mensural canon, recalling the March's ghosttowards the end of the first movement, the 'In nomine'quoted at the close of the second and the Hymn whichends the third. Here, in unison with the cello line, Iimagine a baritone voice, quietly intoningMichelangelo's words: