Piano Quartet No.2 in B flat Major, Op.41
"A singularly fresh and bright work of somewhat Schumannesque flavor. It is greatly to be deplored that the pen which could produce so fine a specimen at a first attempt, should have found no encouragement to further efforts in this direction"---Frederick Corder writing about MacKenzie's Piano Quartet in Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music
Alexander Campbell MacKenzie (1847-1935) along with Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry, was responsible for restoring the reputation of British music in the 19th century and is one of the most important figures from this period. Born in Edinburgh, MacKenzie first studied the violin with his father, who was a professional violinist before going to Germany where he spent five years continuing his studies. While there, he got to know Liszt with whom he remained close until the latter's death. Upon his return to Britain, MacKenzie enjoyed a long career not only as a teacher but also as director of the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to these responsibilities, he also served as the conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for several years.
The Piano Quartet was finished in 1872 and was published the following year. The amiable first movement, Allegro moderato e tranquillo, it opens with the piano stating the theme and the strings joining in one by one. The music becomes more energetic as the entire ensemble finally plays together. It is in the rustic Scherzo which follows is that one feels the influence of Schumann. The third movement, Canzonetta and Variations, uses a folk tune for its theme. The rhythmic variety of the variations is particularly striking and well-done. The finale, Allegro molto e con brio, is based on two subjects, the first is bright and lively while the second is dreamy with an improvisational aura. The development is ingenious and an exciting coda caps off this first rate work.
Had this piano quartet been written by a German or an Austrian, it almost certainly would have entered the repertoire and become well-known. Only when it was too late and long forgotten did British critics discover what a superb work they had from a home-grown composer. The original 1873 edition had no rehearsal letters, but we have remedied this and correct a few existing errors. Neither professionals nor amateurs should miss the chance to become acquainted with outstanding work.