on 12 November 2011
This glorious album gives us yet another reason to be grateful to those good people at Dutton. Previous releases have treated us to the symphonies, piano concerto and some of the ballet scores for which Arnell (1917-2009) was most celebrated. Now, with the sterling input of the Tippett Quartet, they have turned their attention to the neglected British composer's works for String Quartet. Arnell was known as a fine orchestrator, and his talents in this field are much in evidence even on the more intimate scale of the chamber ensemble. The nine-minute first was written in 1939, and is a remarkably assured work for a twenty-two year-old. It is cast in a single terse movement and shows Arnell already in full control of musical form and ideas. The first performance was given in the year after composition by the Galimir Quartet, whose members had studied with Berg and Ravel. The next two quartets followed over the next few years, both in three movements and equally well-controlled. The fourth, from 1950, is once again in a single movement. Good though these works are, and there can be no doubt that these are very fine additions to the literature of the String Quartet, it is Arnell's Fifth Quartet, from 1962, which is the real treasure. Clearly foreshadowing Britten's third Quartet, it is the most expansive of the works here, being spread over seven fairly short movements. What is most noticeable about the structure of this first-rate work is the casting of the four final movements successively for one, two and then three instruments, before all four finally come together for the terse, dramatic finale. In addition to foreshadowings of Britten, Shostakovich is also brought to mind in the textures and sonorities favoured by Arnell. The sound is everywhere clear and bright, showcasing the clear, unfussy mastery of the Tippett Quartet. Robert Matthew-Walker's booklet notes provide excellent background to this unfairly-neglected composer and his music.