Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence

Elgar: String Quartet – Arnold: Sonata for Strings – Simpson: Allegro deciso


Catalogue No: SOMMCD 0145
Release Date: 2015-02-01
Number of Discs: 1
EAN/UPC: 748871014527
Composers: , , ,
Genre: ,
Liner Notes


Elgar String Quartet arr. for strings by David Matthews
Arnold Sonata for Strings arr. by David Matthews after the String Quartet No. 2
Simpson Allegro Deciso from String Quartet No. 3 arr. for strings by the composer

Orchestra of St Paul’s
Ben Palmer
, Conductor

This new release from SOMM recorded last March with the Orchestra of St Paul’s under its Artistic Director, Ben Palmer, brings together the première recordings of three works for string quartet in magnificent versions for string orchestra. Elgar‘s glorious String Quartet and Malcolm Arnold‘s String Quartet No. 2 (recast  as Sonata for Strings) performed here in transcriptions by renowned composer David Matthews. Robert Simpson‘s thrilling Allegro Deciso, the finale of his String Quartet No. 3, is heard in the composer’s own arrangement for strings.


Elgar’s only String Quartet was begun in London in March 1918 and finished at his Sussex cottage by Christmas. He began writing the delicate central Piacevole movement on his wife Alice’s birthday, 9th October. She described it as “like captured sunshine” and asked to have it played at her funeral. Inspired by hearing a performance of the String Quartet given by the Sorrel Quartet, David Matthews had the idea or arranging the Piacevole 2nd movement for string orchestra. It was conducted at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival in 2004 conducted by George Vass, who encouraged Matthews to complete the other two movements to a commission from the Presteigne Festival. This was premiered by the Presteigne Festival Orchestra under George Vass in August 2010.

Malcolm Arnold’s String Quartet No. 2, his final work in this genre, was completed in Dublin in 1975 and premiered the following year in Dublin by the Allegri Quartet. Its dedicatee was Hugh Maguire, the quartet’s first violin, himself an Irishman.  It is a thrillingly intense and deeply personal work. The Allegro first movement is notable for its ever-changing textures, sudden violent outbursts and cascades of scales. After a short violin cadenza the quartet’s second movement leads without  pause into an unaccompanied Irish Reel. Within a few bars, however, this apparently cheerful G major tune is subjected to a furious bitonal assault by the other strings, in C sharp minor. The intense Andante builds twice to a beautifully harmonised chorale. The 9/8 finale has a long-breathed Allegretto melody and a frenzied Vivace which accelerates to the point of collapse, finally revealing a radiant Lento D major coda, with the long-breathed theme given out in augmentation.

Robert Simpson’s orchestration of the finale to his own String Quartet No. 3 was made in 1953-54 at the suggestion of the composer and conductor Walter Goehr, himself a prolific arranger. The quartet is unusual in being cast in just two movements, a lamenting Adagio in C major and the pulsating energy of the E minor Allegro Deciso made even more powerful by the weight of a full string section. As a standalone movement for string orchestra, the Allegro Deciso seems remarkable for its relentless propulsion, a tireless contrapuntal invention building to a climactic coda.


The Orchestra of St Paul’s is one of London’s most dynamic and versatile chamber orchestras. Under the baton of Artistic Director Ben Palmer, OSP has developed a reputation for imaginative programming and exciting, stylish performances. The orchestra performs regularly in all prestigious venues and festivals throughout the UK and internationally. The orchestra’s patron is Sir Roger Norrington.  In 2011 OSP appointed award-winning Irish composer Solfa Carlile as the orchestra’s first Composer-in-Residence. The orchestra has worked with such acclaimed soloists as Roderick Williams, Steven Osborne and David Owen Norris (as both pianist and composer) and with actors Samuel West and Clemency Burton-Hill.

Ben Palmer is Artistic Director of the Orchestra of St Paul’s and is in demand as a guest conductor throughout the UK and abroad. He is increasingly gaining recognition as an inspiring and versatile conductor. Recent debuts include the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the  Kazakh State Chamber Orchestra and the London Mozart Players. He has also conducted the Hallé, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Britten Sinfonia and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group among others. Ben has worked closely with Roger Norrington since 2011, acting as his assistant conductor for concerts, recordings and on tour, and at the BBC Proms. He is in demand as a composer, arranger and orchestrator (recent commissions include  the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin) and is increasingly making a speciality of conducting films live to screen.

London born David Matthews started composing at the age of sixteen. He was mainly self-taught, though he studied privately with Anthony Milner and was greatly helped by Nicholas Maw and Peter Sculthorpe. He also learned much from being an assistant to Benjamin Britten in the late 1960s. His large output includes eight symphonies, five symphonic poems, six concertos, twelve string quartets and many chamber and vocal works. Many of his pieces are inspired by the natural world, by paintings and literary texts, and by collaborations with instrumentalist friends. He has composed six pieces for the BBC Philharmonic, including his last two symphonies, and ten for the Nash Ensemble. He has also written books on Tippett and Britten, and has worked extensively as an arranger.

On This Recording

  1. String Quartet: I. Allegro moderato
  2. String Quartet: II. Piacevole: poco Andante
  3. String Quartet: III. Finale: Allegro molto
  4. Sonata for Strings: I. Allegro
  5. Sonata for Strings: II. Maestoso con molto rubato – Allegro vivace
  6. Sonata for Strings: III. Andante
  7. Sonata for Strings: IV. Allegretto
  8. String Quartet No. 3: String Quartet No. 3: Allegro Deciso (version for string orchestra)