Naxos Quartets Nos. 7 and 8
Little did we know, when Max was commissioned by budget label Naxos to write 10 string quartets, what a late flowering odyssey it would be, all his mature skills coalescing within the intense discipline of Haydn-esque form. The Seventh Quartet is an hour-long sequence of slow movements, quasi-spiritual in their meditative force. It's a risky experiment that Max pulls off, thanks to the quality of his ideas and the Beethovenian rigour with which he elaborates them. The short-and-sweet Eighth Quartet makes an apt contrast.
Andrew Clark, The Financial Times, 4/14/2007
Both are typical of his beautifully crafted quartet style. The seventh carries the subtitle Metafore sul Borromini, and all the movements are inspired by and named after buildings in Rome designed by the baroque architect, whose work has fascinated Maxwell Davies since he was a student in the city in the 1950s. The music is sustained, lyrical and, despite its slow unfolding, constantly gripping. The extrovert eighth offers a complete contrast. The "intermezzo", as the composer puts it, in the whole Naxos set, it is a tribute to John Dowland built upon his Queen Elizabeth's Galliard, which is present in some form throughout the work, although it only emerges clearly in the closing pages. The Maggini stage-manage that appearance perfectly, just as they handle the seventh's introspection with absolute concentration.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 5/18/2007
Seven slow movements with a fevered epilogue. Now where have we encountered that model before? Max has previously acknowledged the quartet shadow of Haydn, but rather than Seven last Words his Naxos No.7 Quartet has six Roman churches and a palazzo in its sights. The architecture of Borromini has long fascinated him. Naxos Seven pays tribute with an imaginative response to each building's architectural processes. But for all the 'magic squares' and arcane structural props, this is a composer bent on personalising his enthusiasms. The result is compelling, as grippingly concentrated as another all-slow-movement paradigm: Shostakovich's valedictory Quartet No.15.Boldly Davies solves the challenges of sustaining interest over 50 minutes of slow music, and the Magginis revel in the invitation to engorged lyricism, just as they rise to the dancing sprung rhythms of the Dowland-indebted Qaurtet No.8-which corners into undisguised charm before a haunting recessional. A perfect foil to No.7, Maxwell Davies calls it an 'intermezzo', but there's more substance than that might imply. Two masterly quartets in masterful performances.
Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine, 6/1/2007