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The second quartet was written in 1975. At over 27 minutes it is half again as long as the earlier work, and the output of a more confident and experienced composer. The first movement begins with a descending seven-note phrase that seems to forecast a typical conservative quartet of the time, mildly romantic, but with enough edge to remain respectable. As Arnold works with the phrase and adds new material, he becomes edgier and more modern sounding, but then succumbs to romance with a full-blown, Viennese-like treatment of earlier material [listen -- track 5, 4:53-6:02]. II also surprises, as an opening lament morphs into a sarcastic hoedown celebration that sounds like a movement from a different piece. III contains no non sequiturs. It, like the slow movement of the first quartet, is unrelenting in its despair.

The melody and warmth of Dvorák come to mind as the final movement begins [listen -- track 8, 0:00-1:36]. But by now we know that Arnold believes consistency to be the hobgoblin of little minds, and the modern edginess of the first movement returns as the quartet wends its way to a satisfying conclusion.

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Copyright © 6 June 2007 Ron Bierman, Barcelona, Spain

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