String Quartets Nos. 1 3 and
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The Maggini Quartet' Naxos recording of Edmund Rubbra' String Quartet No. 2 was praised as 'uperbly integrated...undeniably a great success' by Gramophone. His remaining three string quartets, heard here, mark Rubbra as a great, though still undervalued,
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These quartets span over 40 years of composition, but they are all unmistakably Rubbra's. He doesn't belong to any "school", certainly not the somewhat stereotypical folksong-based tradition of so many British composers. The liner notes speak of a "quiet optimism", but the slow movements of each have a deep sense of loss, even desperation echoing Shostakovich. Rubbra's instrumental music is (usually) "abstract", with no specific program. He converted to Catholicism when he was 46, and his choral music shows an intense spirituality. The final movement of the Quartet #4 will stay with you for a long time after listening.
I have only heard the Sterling Quartet's performances of these quartets, and the Maggini Quartet excels them without question. I can't thank Naxos enough for bringing these wonderful, deep, rewarding pieces to us at such a bargain price, and this and the companion disc (with the Quartet #2, Piano Trio and other works) have my very highest recommendation.
There have been two earlier recordings of all the Rubbra quartets, by the Sterling and Dante Quartets, both admirable. I have compared all three performances of the final movement of Quartet IV. The Sterling and Dante Quartets keep to the composer's slow marking, but the Maggini have the courage to play the movement even more slowly, and achieve and maintain an intensity that outmatches the earlier two recordings. This is a great performance of a great work.