Masters of Chamber Music: Julius Drake and the Maggini Quartet at Kings Place

Joseph Haydn String Quartet in F minor. Op. 55 No. 2
Ernest Moeran String Quartet No. 1 in A minor
Robert Schumann Piano Quintet in E-flat. Op. 44

The Maggini Quartet
Julius Drake Piano

With a work by the father of the string quartet genre, a little-known gem, and a chamber music favourite, Julius Drake and the Maggini Quartet had all bases covered for Wednesday night’s concert at Kings Place. Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor opened the evening. Labelled as the father of the genre, Haydn wrote over 60 string quartets. Though Haydn is credited with setting the conventions of the genre, it is easy to forget that the genre was a site for experimentation.

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The Maggini Quartet

Yet the Magginis played with enthusiasm, ensuring that their performance was as exciting as it was for Haydn. The lower voices provided both a constant and engaging support to Julian Leaper’s soaring melodies on first violin. Leaper occasionally sounded nervous. His tunes were exposed and perhaps not quite under his fingers. But this did not prevent him from singing.

It was the Magginis’ ensemble playing, however, that was most delightful. Careful communication meant the second movement’s pauses were used to their full dramatic effect. Meanwhile, in the third movement, they enjoyed trying out different combinations of voices. Though I would have preferred a swifter finale, the last movement displayed their effortless communication. Their ensemble playing was instinctive, rather than overly measured.

There were, however, some difficulties in their coming together at the start of each work. For all three works on Wednesday night’s programme, it took some moments for the players to settle. But if there was any uneasiness in the opening of Moeran’s String Quartet in A minor, this was quickly forgotten. The Magginis are keen advocates of English repertoire, having recorded works by Frank Bridge, Malcolm Arnold and John Ireland. If any ensemble is going to rescue the rarely-heard Moeran from obscurity, then the Magginis are certainly the ones to do it. But this task comes with responsibility. A poor performance can result in an audience with a lasting negative impression of the composer.

Luckily, the Magginis are the best kind of advocates, for they genuinely love this music. Leaper gloriously sang Moeran’s melodies and together they produced this beautiful feeling of contained triumph. The Magginis ensemble playing was again greatly relished. Their coming together in rhythmic unison in the final movement was astounding not only for their precise playing, but for its huge expression. A thrilling close resulted in a rapturous audience. It is difficult to not become enchanted by a composer when his music is treated with such sincerity.

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Pianist Julius Drake. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

The Magginis were joined by pianist Julius Drake for Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat. They threw themselves into this vehemently joyful piece, but they were also careful not to let this weaken their ensemble playing. As the outsider to the ensemble, Drake meshed particularly well. He coaxed from the piano a beautifully warm sound, but never overpowered the ensemble – something easily done on a modern grand. Though I could not make sense of the speed changes in the first movement, which were confusing rather than expressive, the final two movements were hugely exciting. The third movement Scherzo was bright and spritely, with a trio section that cheekily scuttled along. After a dynamic fugal section in the final movement, Drake and the Maganinis pulled together for a exhilarating close.

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