Some time ago, I watched a film by Ken Russell, entitled, “The Secret
Life of Arnold Bax.” While I cannot attest to its accuracy, Bax
(1883-1953) is definitely a composer whose works deserve more
attention. In 2001, the Maggini Quartet recorded his “String Quartet
No. 3, Lyrical Interlude and Adagio” for the Naxos label.
The Bax “String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2,” each consisted of three
movements. By the time he wrote his “String Quartet No. 3 in
F Major” during 1936, most of his celebrated works had been
completed, and Bax was at the height of his powers. These abilities
were demonstrated in this four-movement piece, which was his
longest string quartet.
“String Quartet No. 3” is rich with harmonics, and the writing of the
four parts is full, and almost orchestral. Perhaps the Scherzo in
the third movement is aggressive and harsh, but the more serene
Trio exhibits nice modal touches.
The “Lyrical Interlude for String Quintet” originated from a piece
Bax completed during 1908, using two cellos, in lieu of two violas.
In 1919, he reworked it and replaced those cellos with violas.
Here, Bax demonstrated a clear Irish influence, along with quite
a bit of Impressionism.
His “Adagio” has roots in a string quartet which Bax composed
during his student years, and probably dates from around 1903.
It is interesting to compare this early piece with his mature
compositions. Not surprisingly, the harmonies are much more
“standard,” and not yet as bold. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant piece.
The recorded sound of these works is quite good, which is typical
of the Naxos label. The performances by the Maggini Quartet
are excellent, and this is another fine recording of British chamber
music by these talented musicians.