Music Reviews

Maxwell Quartet ‘Haydn: String Quartets Op. 74 & Folk Music from Scotland’ on Linn Records

A PCM recording needn’t be a dark horse

Having spent a fortune on a (multi-channel) system, some classical music buffs can be dismissive about everything that may not meet their expectations. A PCM recording for example. I’ve fallen into that trap several times, too. Not without reason. Depending on your ears, equipment, and mood, it’s only logical that one demands nothing but the best in sound quality. Isn’t that the core business of Native DSD? Does that rule out PCM? Listening to this new Linn release, we ought to remedy the idea that a PCM recording cannot be good enough for the ultimate musical experience. In such general terms, it simply isn’t true. If the music is well played, an original PCM recording can be as rewarding as any. The more so if, as is the case here, it is subsequently expertly remastered in DSF.

The Maxwell Quartet‘s fresh approach in Haydn’s three Op. 74 String Quartets is the proof of the pudding. One may argue that these are not ‘salon’ compositions, and some do. Haydn wrote them at the time he composed his London Symphonies and it is a general belief that this Apponyi threesome should be played similarly. To my ears, that’s what the Maxwell readings are all about. Sturdily convincing with a taste of a good glass of malt followed by and mixed with a generous dose of wit. 

The winning stroke of the Scots.

For real competition, one may turn to BIS and its Haydn (PCM!) String Quartet releases with the Chiaroscuro Quartet, having earned so many accolades. However, thus far with no Op. 74 on the menu. The choice in high resolution is indeed limited. Praga Digitals issued the same set 20 years ago with the Kocian Quartet. I have it and the comparison reveals that the quality of both playing and recording are at par with the Maxwell’s but in readings that are quite different from one another. Should anyone be tempted, the label has long stopped producing SACDs and this set is now difficult to get.

Besides, one should not only look at what someone else has to offer but also at what someone else has not. In my view, the winning stroke of the Scots is the combination of the three quartets with neat arrangements of several Scottish Folk Songs, whether anonymous or written by respectively Nathaniel Gow (1763-1831), Niel Gow (1727–1807), Sìne NicFhionnlaigh (?), William Marshall (1748–1833) and Isaac Cooper (c. 1755–c. 1811). Everything beautifully done.

As things stand, this is the best choice available. 

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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