Composer Vanessa Lann's email proposing we listen to music 'without pre-judging its merits because the composer happened to be male or female, young or old, living or deceased, famous or unknown, European or non-European, etc' arrived the day after I bought the Maggini Quartet's (left) new CD of Sir Malcolm Arnold's two string quartets.
This excellent new Naxos CD just demands blind listening. Play it to a knowledgable friend and I wager they will tell you it is Bartok or Hindemith, but certainly not Arnold. The First Quartet dates from 1949, and the Second from 1975. The masterpiece is the Second, which was written during an Indian Summer of British string writing, a period which also produced Elizabeth Maconchy's quartets which I will return to in a future article. The Maggini are persuasive advocates of the Arnold quartets, and the sound recorded in Potton Hall here in East Anglia by producer Andrew Walton and engineer Eleanor Thomason is demonstration quality.
Arnold's Second Qartet was well received at its Dublin premiere, and was then performed at the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival. But since than both the composer, and the string quartet as a genre, have slipped out of fashion. If you need any proof of how stupid, and damaging, musical fashions are, go out and buy this new Naxos CD.
Now read about Arnold's neglected 20th century masterpiece
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