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,
Edmund Rubbra (1901 - 1986) is scarely known in this country. He was born to very modest circumstances and had to drop out of school at 14 to take a railway job. (Shades of Pettersson!) He showed a very early interest in music, and at age 17 he staged a concert of music by the composer Cyril Scott. Scott was informed of this, and took Rubbra on as a pupil. Gustav Holst was also one of his teachers, and eventually, Rubbra obtained a scholarship to University College.
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The English String Quartet at its most eloquentJan. 28 2012
Dr. Richard M. Price
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Rubbra's idiom, with its contrapuntal complexity and clear harmony, suited the medium of the string quartet exceptionally well, and he left four examples, spread out evenly through his composing career. The First Quartet appeared in 1935 and was substantially revised ten years later; the result is a bit of a hotchpotch, with a middle movement in a notably simpler idiom than the rest, but it works well enough as an interlude, while the outer movements are both mature Rubbra, and that good judge Harold Truscott thought the last movement unsurpassed among this composer's finales. The Second Quarter (which the Maggini Quartet have already recorded on another Naxos CD) was one of the most admired of all Rubbra's works, and deservedly. The first movement maintains fluid thematic development, with perfect clarity and variety of texture; this, one feels, is the ideal way to write for the medium. The second and third movements (a scintillating, polymetric scherzo and an eloquent song-like slow movement) are almost as good; the finale maintains the musical interest, but with its rather contrived thematic links is not wholly convincing (at least to my ears). The Third Quartet disappointed the critics on its first appearance (which I heard at the time, almost fifty years ago), and remains the weak link in the chain: the second and third movements are both dominated by rigid motifs that firmly resist variation or development. Fortunately, the Fourth Quartet marked a return to form: the thematic development is rich and riveting, while the harmony (with its use of the minor seventh) has, like other late Rubbra works (such as Symphonies X and XI), a new warmth and expressiveness. The second and final movement, a slow elegy, unfolds to perfection, deeply moving, with a sublime and utterly satisfying conclusion.
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.