Arnold: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Quintet for flute, violin, viola, horn & bassoon, Op. 7; Phantasy for String Quartet (Vita abundans)

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COMPOSERS: Arnold
LABELS: Guild
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Quintet for flute, violin, viola, horn & bassoon, Op. 7; Phantasy for String Quartet (Vita abundans)
PERFORMER: Ceruti Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: GMCD 7216
Malcolm Arnold’s complete output for string quartet is contained on this disc, including the previously unrecorded Vita abundans (‘Abundant Life’), written when Arnold was 19 – and there’s still room for the three-movement Quintet, Op. 7. It’s surprising he hasn’t written more. All the quartet music shows a well-developed feel for the medium and the two numbered quartets show a side of Arnold which rarely appears elsewhere: as dark and edgy as any of the later symphonies, but more inward-looking and concentrated. The startling ‘happy ending’ of the Second distantly recalls the schmaltzy big tune which almost ends the finale of the Fifth Symphony, only here the irony is more elusive – which is the mask and which the true expressive face? The contrast with the witty, on the whole cheerful Quintet is striking. The Ceruti Ensemble plays with impressive, polished authority. It sounds as though the players have taken trouble to probe out deeper meanings in this music, though they never force anything. Riddles remain riddles, however forcefully presented – as in the bizarre Celtic-dance scherzo of Quartet No. 2. I would have liked a slightly brighter recording, but on technical grounds it’s hard to fault the sound. Stephen Johnson

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