The Maxwell Quartet Concert
There was a particular sense of expectation about this month’s concert, as the Maxwell Quartet had originally been due to perform in January but had to postpone their Whitstable appearance due to the insertion of an extra international engagement in the Netherlands.
They were certainly worth waiting for: this proved to be an evening of chamber music at its very best, with string quartet playing of the highest order. The artists had all been close friends since childhood, making music together as they grew up together in Scotland, and this seemed to give them a special degree of rapport with each other. Not only was there was a homogeneity of age but also to some extent of appearance; all four were on the hirsute side, sporting four beards and a ponytail between them! Even their all-black dress code was given a quirky twist by the violist Elliott Perks who sported some brightly patterned socks that put one in mind of sailing boats. Meanwhile, much entertainment was to be had watching the expressive face and mobile eyebrows of 2nd violinist George Smith, and following the hyper-lively body language of cellist Duncan Strachan, whose balletic movement whilst seated not infrequently included lifting both feet off the ground at once!
The Maxwell Quartet’s programme included works from the late 18th century, latish 19th century and early 20th century, with a contrasting first half of Haydn (Op 76 no.2) and Ravel (Quartet in F major), followed after the interval by Tchaikovsky’s 1st Quartet. The performers brought out the full humour and quirkiness of the Haydn, imbuing it with both delicacy and sparkle, but the effortlessness of their ensemble was on best show in the Ravel, which unfolded with a wonderful degree of fluency and a sensuous, easygoing lyricism. Ravel’ s Quartet occupies a distinctive soundworld, making use (inter alia) of the octatonic scale, and this performance transported us into some truly magical realms.
The quartet’s rendition of the Tchaikovsky, though also most enjoyable, perhaps fell a touch short of the extremely high bar they had set themselves with the pre-interval repertoire. While the outer movements were convincingly rendered, the famous Andante cantabile really needed to sing more, and could have done with a stronger melodic line from 1st violinist Colin Scobie; for my money, the movement didn’t feel quite relaxed enough. The Scherzo & Trio were suitably vigorous with the sense of dance well captured, but would have perhaps benefited from greater dynamic light and shade.
We were treated to a delightful encore in the shape of some Scottish and Irish folk music (the violinists swapping positions with each other at this point). This was a brilliant way of rounding off the evening and sending the audience home with a spring in their step.
All told, it was a privilege to experience such a superb evening’s music-making, and the Maxwell Quartet’s evident enjoyment of their repertoire, and of each other’s company, proved infectious in the best possible sense! We wish this young quartet well as they continue to conquer the heights of the chamber music world.
Artistic Director, Music on the Green