Notes and Editorial Reviews
Back in my college days my music-loving friends and I would amuse ourselves perusing the letters section of Gramophone magazine, and every so often a desperately worded appeal would turn up, lamenting the "dearth of Rubbra symphony recordings." Now it wasn't as if people were lining up for Rubbra symphonies the way they lined up for the launch of, say, the I-Pod, but if the orchestral works weren't exactly thick on the field, the quartets never even made it to the letters section at all (that I noticed). Perhaps they should have; they are fine, if imperfect works.
Rubbra should have been a "natural" for the quartet medium: a gifted contrapuntist and a composer of great seriousness, even nobility, this
would seem to be just his cup of tea. However, as with the symphonies, Rubbra's ability to construct his first movements and adagios effectively (and often quite beautifully here) is compromised by his helplessness with finales. His feeling for music was rhetorical rather than dramatic, and in Quartets Nos. 1 and 3 the last movements (of three) disappoint, with the former's being too short and the latter's too light. In the Fourth quartet, which has only two movements, Rubbra wisely says "the heck with it" and places the adagio last.
The Maggini Quartet has made many excellent recordings of the English quartet repertoire for Naxos, and this one is no exception. They bring plenty of expressive intensity to those heartfelt adagios, and phrase Rubbra's intertwining contrapuntal lines with winning clarity, while avoiding excessive density. The engineering is also very good: unobtrusive and natural. This music is well worth getting to know, even if Rubbra's relentless earnestness sometimes seems to overwhelm his inspiration.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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