Hugh Maguire (1926–2013) managed to combine his work as leader of orchestras with making some fine chamber music. I share my admiration for his playing with far more distinguished pupils of his. As he caressed the strings lovingly, his way of turning a phrase was irresistible.
In the NYO another important kind of education for me was pub sessions where he and flautist Norman Knight would swap indiscreet orchestral stories over copious G&Ts.
Blessed with a brilliant Irish sense of humour (see also Irish tag), Hugh could be both charming and tough with conductors; it was he who told me the Hermann Scherchen story. This reminiscence of Jacqueline du Pré, with whom he and Fou Ts’ong loved playing piano trios in the 1960s, gives an idea of his sincerity.
Hugh’s playing appears all too rarely on YouTube, but here’s his wonderful 1964 recording of Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov, not the equally ravishing Ravel version) with Pierre Monteux and the LSO:
Pete Hanson, heir to Hugh’s own spirit, recalls his account of a scary moment during the Scheherazade sessions:
Towards the end of a day’s recording, Monteux turned to him after the first take of the finale, with its ethereal high harmonics, and said “Come on Maguire, get it right!”
Hugh too could be as down-to-earth as his playing was sublime. Here’s Pete again, with a couple of choice comments received during lessons:
“You sound great, Pete, all the shapes and feelings are there—but you’ve got to play all the notes!”
“Pete, even if your strings are out, you must play in tune! Just do it wit’ your fingers!”
So I remember fiddle-players with cigarettes poised between two fingers of their bow-hand, and the ash would wave and sprinkle across their trouser-knees; or the cigarette that drooped between a player’s lips would let drop a little grub of ash into an f-hole of a fiddle, where it disintegrated as it crashed into the ersatz “Stradivari” label. The knees were dusted off, someone rosined up, and a fitful shaft of sunlight would illuminate the dust-motes like a dissolute snowstorm souvenir.
This 1968 recording of the Mendelssohn Octet has long been a favourite, with Hugh leading a star cast including Neville Marriner and Iona Brown (or Iona Brown violin, as she’s known):
On the same LP, the poise of Hugh’s playing in the Minuet of the Boccherini Quintet is charming too—with a bold yet tasteful glissando on the cello (0.37, 1.03, and best of all at 3.15):
And here’s Hugh leading the Allegri quartet in the Mozart clarinet quintet, with Jack Brymer:
(For the clarinet concerto, click here.)