Arnold; Elgar; Simpson

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COMPOSERS: Arnold; Elgar; Simpson
LABELS: Somm Céleste
WORKS: Arnold: Sonata for Strings (String Quartet No. 2 arr. D Matthews); Elgar: String Quartet (arr. D Matthews); Simpson: Allegro Deciso (String Quartet No. 3 arr. Simpson)
PERFORMER: Orchestra of St Paul’s/Ben Palmer
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0145

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Like the full English breakfast, the full English string orchestra has a distinctive character all its own. Listening to the Elgar here, we sense the Introduction and Allegro lying over the next Malvern hill. Echoes arise of his symphonies, too. But we’re actually listening to his 1918 String Quartet, most sensitively expanded for larger forces by David Matthews. The middle movement, marked piacevole, is the revelation, shimmering with a new hushed beauty – equally a testament to the lustre frequently achieved by the 16 musicians in Ben Palmer’s Orchestra of St Paul’s, with the violin sections placed antiphonally to the conductor’s left and right.

We also have Matthews to thank for Malcolm Arnold’s Sonata for Strings, arranged from his troubling Second Quartet of 1975. As with the Elgar the forces may have become enlarged, but there is never any distortion of intent; indeed, the bipolar mix of searing anguish, quiet radiance and Irish reel hits home as never before. Only in Robert Simpson’s propulsive Allegro Deciso, extracted and arranged by the composer from his String Quartet No. 3, do we miss some of the original’s intimate cut and thrust. The recording throughout is warm and bright. Eat this English breakfast with confidence.

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Geoff Brown