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Review 1: Sir Malcolm Arnold at 80 Wigmore Hall 25 October 2001 (PGW)

Sir Malcolm ARNOLD was 'done proud' at the Wigmore Hall with two celebratory concerts during the week of his 80th birthday. He was brought on stage to hear praise for his unique contribution, and to receive the Fellowship of the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters, the first classical composer to be so honoured, after his own Fanfare for Louis (1970) had reminded us that the young Malcolm Arnold had been a notable trumpeter.

An overlong programme began with a sparkling rendering of the Op 4 Three Shanties (1943) which are already unmistakable, pure Arnold and have held a firm place in the wind quintet repertoire ever since. It ended with a strong and persuasive account of the ground breaking Brass Quintet (1961), which established the 2 trumpets, French horn, trombone & tuba instrumentation as the standard. This starts off with very like a quote from the finale of Britten's Young Persons Guide (1946) but quickly speaks in Arnold's own unmistakeable voice. Of three solo wind competition test pieces, I enjoyed especially the clarinet Fantasy, which shows a clear influence of Kodaly, and was most persuasively played by Barnaby Robson (whose special promise I had noted when he was a PLG Young Musician). He went on to give an authoritative account of the Clarinet Sonatina, one of many works which wind players of future generations will continue to enjoy performing.

I could have spared two works disinterred from around 1940, particularly the London premiere of an unfunny, and too long, Grand Fantasia Op 973 written under a pseudonym. The item which, for me, represented Sir Malcom Arnold's chamber music at its highest was the 2nd String Quartet, given a powerfully expressive performance by the Maggini String Quartet; an unquestionable masterwork, written at the request of Hugh Maguire, Irish leader of the Allegri Quartet. It includes some Irishness and encompasses a wide range of sometimes disturbing feelings in unpredictable juxtapositions, epitomising the complex personality of this important British composer.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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