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Emotional Extremes

Malcolm Arnold
string quartets -
reviewed by

'I recommend savoring the Maggini's outstanding advocacy ...'

Malcolm Arnold: String Quartets Nos 1 and 2; Phantasy for String Quartet 'Vita Abundans'. Maggini Quartet. © 2007 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Few composers have written music as full of emotional extremes as that of Malcolm Arnold. His symphonies often express a shattering despair, rivaling that of Shostakovich, while his overtures and music for movies can be irrepressibly, even raucously optimistic. These pieces for string quartet duplicate, on a smaller scale, the emotional swings of his better known orchestral music. Those aware of the Maggini's outstanding track record with under-recorded British chamber works will need no recommendation to buy this release. Others, after hearing it, will search for the Maggini's benchmark versions of Bax, Walton and Vaughan Williams. I'm particularly fond of their earlier release of works by Moeran.

Arnold wrote just the two string quartets recorded here. Each is in four movements. Both have strong melodic profiles and only infrequent dissonance. The first was composed in 1949 when he was in his late twenties and yet to fully develop his own voice. Bartók seems the most obvious influence, especially in the first movement. But Arnold begins to hint of a more unique art in II, and the poignant theme of III is an even better preview of what was in the young composer's future [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:14]. The final movement begins in the expected faster tempo, but surprises by becoming more subdued as it proceeds, finishing in a mood of disappointed resignation, perhaps already an indication of the depression the composer was to feel at times throughout his life.

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Copyright © 6 June 2007 Ron Bierman, Barcelona, Spain


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