Concert Review – Maxwell String Quartet

Concert Review

Maxwell String Quartet – 10th March 2024

The Maxwell String Quartet

The Maxwell String Quartet, formed in Scotland in 2010, performed a programme of two landmark quartets by Haydn and Beethoven either side of their own arrangements of Scottish music from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.  The large audience enjoyed this unusual stylistic mix performed with great gusto and musical insight.

The Maxwell String Quartet
The Maxwell String Quartet

1772 was an important year for Haydn:  he had his fortieth birthday and he produced his six string quartets op.20 that established a form revered by and inspirational to future composers.  From the first  notes of op.20 no.1 it was clear that the players were committed to an engaging and shared conversation.   The first movement’s flowing themes unfolded effortlessly as each part emerged clearly in turn;  the short, lively menuet brought fine, articulated playing all round and the sustained slow movement revealed a well-balanced sonorous quartet texture.  The sprightly finale was played with technical aplomb,  brilliant contrasts and infectious humour.

Cellist Duncan Strachan introduced  the pot-pourri of Scottish tunes, starting in the Firth of Forth with a thirteenth century antiphon from Incholm Abbey – calm and reflective, before moving on to the Outer Hebrides.

The Everlasting Swell, a plaintive song of the sea, was introduced by the solo cello to bewitching effect before being shared with the rest of the quartet.   Harris Dance livened things up as did tunes by three Scottish composers, Nathaniel and Niel Gow and William Marshall:   Master Francis Sitwell, The Marquis of Tulibardine and Miss Cameron of Balvenie.  A refreshing and entertaining interlude.

Beethoven’s Quartet in C# minor op.131 was finished in July 1826, just eight months before he died. Fifty four years earlier Haydn’s op.20 launched the string quartet; Beethoven now displayed its apogee.   Its seven sections, played without a break, present challenges to performers and listeners alike and the Maxwell Quartet communicated much of its visionary message with great technical skill and musical passion.    The opening fugue was stately rather than spacious, the first Allegro tripped merrily and the central Variations conveyed the diverse moods persuasively.  The wild Scherzo was brilliantly maniacal and the substantial finale was well-paced till the final triumphant three chords.

John Upson

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