Callum Foad Column: Maggini Quartet
Flashback to the concert just before Christmas
The return of the Maggini Quartet to the University in December is an event tinted with a slight sadness, as it is the first time back in St Greg’s for the ensemble in the absence of long-term violinist and friend David Angel who sadly passed away. Despite this, the quartet perform at their usual levels of excellence, and play a highly enjoyable set.
Joined by new member Ciaran McCabe on second violin, the quartet plays a lively and varied set, drawing influence from three composers spanning the breadth of Europe. They begin the evening by playing Mozart’s quartet in D minor, a piece written during times of great stress for the composer. Due to the perceived severity of pieces written in the minor key during the 18th century, very few pieces were composed this way. For this reason, the piece remains unique amongst the catalogue of Mozart and indeed many of his contemporaries, and it is a welcome surprise to find it included in the evenings setlist. The music is performed with a smoothness and lucidity that has become so telling of the Maggini Quartet, who, having played together since 1988, have developed alongside each other as musicians and are thus capable of such performances.
The quartet then move to a piece by the celebrated 20th century composer Edward Elgar, something much appreciated by the crowd. The quartet pause to explain the story behind the piece, and offer interesting little asides about the composer himself. The piece itself, once begun, is in great contrast with that which had preceded it. Described by Lady Elgar as ‘captured sunshine’, the three movements are both exuberant and enigmatic, seen at the time as serving almost as an antidote to the bleak years of war that had preceded. Moving through the piece at some speed, the quartet prove why they are among the most premier ensembles of this size in England, as they once again play with a sharp and refined elegance, particularly noticeable within the slower and more graceful second movement.
The final piece of the evening comes from the Bohemian composer, Antonín Dvorák, namely his string quartet in F, Op. 96. The inclusion of work by this great Czech composer comes as a great surprise, as the great majority of his work is often overlooked. Perhaps most famous for his ‘New world’ symphony, the composer spent three years living in America, where both of these pieces were written. Despite the obvious influences of American society upon the composer the compositions remain uniquely Czech in both sound and form, and therefore often stand out at great contrast with other pieces of music written during this era. The Maggini Quartet however develop the piece into their set with no effort, and it serves as an interesting end to the evening. The quartet play with a vitality demanded by the score, and develop nuances into the work that are often overlooked in many contemporary performances, yet it is these that are so telling of Dvorák.
The quartet then retire from the stage with a humble thankfulness and the promise that they will return. Due to the long term partnership fostered between the Quartet and University it will surely not be long until the Maggini Quartet are welcomed back to Canterbury, something which many members of the audience this evening will be eagerly awaiting.
– Callum Foad