LABELS: Dutton Epoch
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Clarinet Quintet in G; Song of the Bottle; The Last Rose of Summer
PERFORMER: Rasumovsky Quartet; Richard Hosford (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7124
These additions to Dutton’s Epoch series usefully fill gaps in our knowledge of two now neglected composers, one a late Romantic of grandiose ambition and the other an urbane senior figure of today, with little more in common than their birth in London and the advocacy of Thomas Beecham at crucial stages in their respective careers.
Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958) composed an operatic triptych on Welsh legends, and the finest moments in this selection of his (mostly early) chamber music belong to the same Celtic world: for example, the wistful slow movement of his Clarinet Quintet, discarded alternative to it called ‘Eileen Shona’, and some folksong arrangements for quartet. His quicker movements, however, often seem four-square and banal, only occasionally enlivened by a touch of music-hall swagger. The Rasumovsky Quartet, playing with conviction and warmly recorded, does its best for the two uneven quartets, and Richard Hosford successfully overcomes the awkwardness of Holbrooke’s clarinet-writing.
Richard Arnell (born 1917) writes with great assurance for his chosen ensembles, and at his best creates interesting textures and convincing formal shapes. The first Allegro of his 1946 Piano Trio, for instance, begins with tense, vehemently fragmentary phrases and works its way towards a broad melody. But that melody seems manufactured rather than deeply felt – as do the themes of the more lyrical String Quintet of 1950. A Suite for solo cello of 1960, and a couple of later pieces featuring flute, are neatly made without leaving much impression. The Locrian Ensemble offers enthusiastic advocacy throughout. Anthony Burton