RICHARD ARNELL – String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4

British composer Richard Arnell [1917-2009] wrote six string quartets from 1940 to 1992.

Arnell’s third quartet was completed in 1945, and was thus quite an early work. It opens with a stately theme, played by all instruments in very simple harmony. The music then moves into tempo in a very positive manner. There are strong tonal melodies here. The mood relaxes a little as the first violin plays solo over a sparse accompaniment. After a time, the intensity increases and then drops into a charming melodic passage with all four instruments conversing. A jaunty passage follows with violin prominent again. Then the tempo eases a little and we have a charming pastoral section led by the violin. It continues with this mood before a loud chordal rhythm prepares us for the end which comes quickly.

The second movement is marked lento and it opens with a slow, sparse melody in the violins. This is a most alluring section. The violin melody gives way to the whole ensemble having their say, eventually leading to a rich chordal passage and back again to a sparse section. This is the music I was born to listen to. It reminds me of another British composer, Daniel Jones (reviewed August, 2016). Eventually, the music just fades into nothing. Wonderful.

The third movement opens at a sprightly tempo. It is a very British dance like theme. The tempo drops back and the ensemble play with the melody as it progresses through various rhythmic moods. This is a very dynamic movement. Nearing the end, it positively races to a conclusion.

After discussing so many composers who slip into Modernism every now and again, it’s a pleasure to hear a piece that doesn’t. This is Romanticism in 1945.

Quartet No. 4 is a one-movement work, written in 1951. It is marked allegro. The opening is a very busy theme with all instruments going full tilt! Around the one-minute mark, it cuts back considerably into a beguiling mood where the cello is prominent. It then begins to work its way back into a rhythm but is cut short with another slow, sparse passage. These sections are very appealing and there is a constant duality here; first rhythmic, then sparse. We finally reach an extended quiet section, with full chords and subtle lines from all instruments. There is some wonderful viola here. The mood starts to move towards a swash-buckling conclusion but it drops back to two instruments with an elegant passage until it fades to the end.

These quartets are conservative, rewarding works. Just a note on some of  the other quartets on the disc. No. 2 has a great slow movement. No 5 has seven movements, mostly quite short, but interesting.

Regarding availability, there is a CD, String Quartets Nos. 1 to 5 by the Tippett Quartet, on the Dutton Epoch label at both Amazon US and UK. It is also on Presto Classical with some sound samples. I couldn’t find any other listenable sources – what a shame.

Listenability: Very late Romanticism.


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