Long eclipsed by his film scores, concertos, and symphonies, the two string quartets of Malcolm Arnold are gradually finding their proper place in the repertoire, and the growing number of recordings made since the 1990s bodes well for their popular acceptance. Even though these quartets are abstractly modernist in conception and content, falling stylistically somewhere between Bartók and Britten, they are quite accessible for their textural clarity, vivid techniques, and tonal orientation. Listeners will find that the compact and chromatic String Quartet No. 1 (1949) and the expansive and openly melodic String Quartet No. 2 (1975) are striking in their contrasts and quite memorable for their strongly defined characters. They will also find that the bravura performances by the Maggini Quartet are utterly absorbing for their drama and precision. Sympathetic and committed, this British ensemble has established a fine reputation for interpreting its native literature with virtuosity, accuracy, and subtlety, and produced important recordings for Naxos that range from the late Romantic quartets of John Ireland to Peter Maxwell Davies' specially commissioned series. The two by Arnold, along with his youthful Phantasy for string quartet, "Vita Abundans," at long last join the list, and lovers of English chamber music have cause to celebrate. Naxos' reproduction is vibrant and warm, with natural presence and just enough resonance to sound realistic.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|String Quartet No. 1, Op. 23|
|String Quartet No. 2, Op. 118|