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Bax's 3rd Quartet was written when the composer was 52 in summer of 1936. Written for the Griller Quartet it was written both in London and Galway, Ireland (Bax loved all things Irish). It was premiered on the BBC National Programme in May 1937. The 1st movement, Allegro, is marginally the longest movement at around 10 minutes (and my favourite) and its agitated and restless strength is highly rewarding. Of the first movement Bax explained that it was "probably influenced by the coming of spring in beautiful Kenmare" and you can certainly imagine the feel of spring bursting though your speakers as you play it. The 2nd movement is more introspective and mysterious but Bax's writing her is highly imaginative using elements of conflict as the work is punctuated with short thrusts, strange dance rhythms and ghostly unsettling changes. The third movement consists of a juxtapositioned scherzo and trio. Bax explained further about these...
"a rather sinister and malicious scherzo, and a dreamy, remotely romantic trio. This contest is finally won by the scherzo, when it converts the subject of the trio to its own way of thinking."
There's a constant feeling of struggle and tension in the 3rd movement and there's even time for reference to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4. The character of this fine quartet changes once again in the allegro finale, which is more strident and argumentative. The abrasive qualities continue before the music softens towards the conclusion. In the closing bars Bax once again brings back the more agitated nature of the start of the movement. Incidentally, Bax originally wrote the middle movements in the reverse order but changed his mind before publishing the work or having the quartet performed and I would suggest, after hearing it, that he made the right choice. This is a highly rewarding and thought-provoking quartet and feels much shorter than its close to 40 minute duration.
There's only one recording that I know of and its by the Maggini Quartet and it's a very impressive one too. There's lots of small detail, impressive clarity, fine articulation, depth and commitment caught in excellent sound. Even if three were other recordings available this one would still be tough to beat. Highly recommended.
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