Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Arthur Bliss - String Quartet No. 1; Conversation; String Quartet in A (Maggini Quartet)


Composer: Arthur Bliss
  1. String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major: I. Andante maestoso - Allegro con brio
  2. String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major: II. Allegretto grazioso
  3. String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major: III. Sostenuto
  4. String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major: IV. Vivace
  5. Conversations for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello: No. 1 The Committee Meeting: Moderato
  6. Conversations for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello: No. 2 In the Wood: Adagio
  7. Conversations for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello: No. 3 In the Ballroom: Scherzando
  8. Conversations for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello: No. 4 Soliloquy: Andante tranquillo e molto rubato
  9. Conversations for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello: No. 5 In the Tube at Oxford Circus: Allegro energico
  10. String Quartet in A major: I. Moderato ma tranquillo
  11. String Quartet in A major: II. Andante sostenuto
  12. String Quartet in A major: III. Allegro vivace con grazia

Maggini Quartet
Laurence Jackson, violin I
David Angel, violin II
Martin Outram, viola
Michal Kaznowski, cello
Michael Cox, flute (5-9)
Nicholas Daniel, oboe (5-9)

Date: 2000
Label: Naxos



A welcome ‘second opinion’ from the Maggini Quartet on Bliss’s masterfully constructed and expressive string quartets

Enthusiasts may already possess Bliss’s two mature string quartets in the Delmé Quartet’s superb Hyperion coupling from 1985. Now come the Maggini Quartet’s new thoughts on this rewarding repertoire. Their recordings come as part of a project which will stretch to two discs and embrace some fascinating rarities of its own.

The earliest work here‚ the String Quartet in A major‚ was completed around 1914 and taken up by the Philharmonic String Quartet (whose line­up featured Eugene Goossens on second violin). It’s a fresh­faced‚ skilfully wrought essay‚ tinged with English modal pastoralism and an occasional dash of Ravel‚ and much admired by Lady Elgar (in a letter to Bliss‚ who was on active service in France‚ she wrote of the music’s ‘eager life and exhilarating energy and hope’). In 1919‚ Bliss withdrew the Quartet‚ travelling to Paris where he fell under the spell of the chic radicalism of Les Six. While in the French capital‚ he composed Conversations‚ a wittily mischievous‚ at times strikingly memorable suite in five pithy movements‚ imaginatively scored for flute/bass flute‚ oboe/cor anglais‚ violin‚ viola and cello.

However‚ it’s the First Quartet proper which yields the most enduring rewards. Commissioned by and dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge‚ the work was written during 1940 in Berkeley‚ California‚ where it was first performed by the Pro Arte Quartet in April 1941‚ receiving its British première from the Griller Quartet in London some 11 months later.

Cast in four movements and full of high­class invention‚ this is a shrewdly argued piece which strikes an enormously pleasing balance between captivating poise‚ formidable economy of thought and fervent expression. As with the masterly Music for Strings of 1935‚ Bliss’s command and understanding of the forces at his disposal are complete‚ and the work as whole shows the composer at his consummate‚ intelligent best.

The Maggini Quartet deserve the heartiest plaudits for their cogent and assured championship of this music; if anything‚ their account of the B flat Quartet surpasses that of the Delmé in its clean­limbed authority and scrupulous commitment to the cause.

For Conversations‚ Nicholas Daniel and Michael Cox join in the fun with exemplary spirit and character. The sound is vivid and true. This is‚ quite simply‚ another irresistible bargain from the Maggini Quartet and Naxos.

-- Andrew AchenbachGramophone

More reviews:


Arthur Bliss (2 August 1891 – 27 March 1975) was an English composer and conductor. After the First World War, he quickly became known as an unconventional and modernist composer, but within the decade he began to display a more traditional and romantic side in his music. In Bliss's later years, his work was respected but was thought old-fashioned, and it was eclipsed by the music of younger colleagues such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Since his death, his compositions have been well represented on record, and many of his better-known works remain in the repertoire of British orchestras.


The Maggini Quartet is a British string quartet, formed in 1988. The Quartet's name derives from the famous 16th century Brescian violin maker Giovanni Paolo Maggini. Maggini Quartet is known for championing the British repertoire, and has made many CD recordings published through publishers such as Naxos Records. In addition to their concert activity, the members of the Quartet have an international reputation as chamber music coaches. Its current members are Julian Leaper (Violin 1), David Angel (Violin 2), Martin Outram (Viola) and Michal Kaznowski (Cello).


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