Maxwell String Quartet

Although still more-or-less radiant with the first flush of youth, the four members of the Maxwell Quartet are already in danger of becoming almost establishment figures on the Scottish musical scene. It’s a few years since they first visited Crieff (and there have been changes in their line-up since then) but they communicate more than ever a sense of belonging, which was further reinforced in last Wednesday’s concert by the inclusion of a commissioned piece which they actually premièred during the SMS Golden Jubilee year in 2016. This was “Let the Dancing Out” (subtitled A String Quartet for Strathearn) by Gareth Williams, which incorporates the old tune “Crieff Fair”.

The Maxwells, often to be seen in their promotional material kilted and braving the elements by chilly-looking northern waters, are utterly at home in such repertoire, responding to both its folk music heritage and to its contemporary treatment by imaginative young compatriot composers, but this in no ways implies any insularity on their part. Indeed their current schedule now takes them to appreciative audiences across Europe and beyond, with a repertoire which is eclectic, intelligent and always engaging. Witness this programme in St Andrew’s Hall, which opened with non-too-familiar Haydn, progressed through the challenging abstractions of Fauré’s Op 121 (his last work) and culminated in the ethereal drama and whirlwind emotions of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet in D minor. Tragedy, plaintive yearning and a wild and impetuous tarantella are all part of the mix in this far-reaching work and when you play it to round off an otherwise equally demanding evening you need power, insight and stamina. Needless to say, these chaps had the lot, and gave their all. Despite energetic applause, rightly no encore after scaling such a pinnacle of the musical landscape.

(Next concert: Wed 16 Jan 2019 at 7.30 pm in St Andrew’s Hall, guitarist Ayman Jarjour)