ELGAR; ARNOLD; SIMPSON Quartets Arranged for Strings
In 2004 David Matthews made an arrangement for string orchestra of the wonderfully tender and fragrantly poetic Piacevole centrepiece from Elgar’s Op 83 String Quartet. George Vass conducted the successful premiere at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival, after which he urged Matthews to rework the outer movements as well. Six years later, Vass’s Presteigne Festival Orchestra was able to give the first performance of Matthews’s sensitive and stylish treatment in its entirety. Even more compelling, I think, is the same composer’s 2005 recasting, as a Sonata for Strings, of Malcolm Arnold’s Second String Quartet from 1975. Dedicated to the Irish violinist Hugh Maguire (then leader of the Allegri Quartet), it dates from Arnold’s turbulent Dublin years; its elements of gritty dialogue, skittish mood-swings (the second movement juxtaposes a deeply felt soliloquy for first violin with an Irish reel that soon turns nasty) and hard-won serenity seem to have acquired an even greater intensity in this new garb.
Robert Simpson’s string-orchestra arrangement of the substantial finale from his own two-movement Third Quartet (1953 54) was prompted by the conductor Walter Goehr and strikes me as another success. Simpson thought of his first three string quartets as a trilogy, and this mighty Allegro deciso shows the composer at his early peak – music of tremendous eloquence, awesome rigour and kinetic force. Here, as elsewhere, Ben Palmer elicits an agreeably spruce and consistently alert response from the 16 string players of the Orchestra of St Paul’s, while Ben Connellan’s sound is pleasingly transparent and airy to match. All told, a stimulating and laudable release.