Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

MALCOLM ARNOLD (1921-) Symphony No. 5 (1961) 29.54 Sarabande and Polka (1956) 5.49 Divertimento No. 2 (1950) 9.03 * Symphonic Study - Machines (1948) 6.35 * The Belles of St Trinians - comedy suite (1954) 8.33 *   Munchner Symphoniker - Douglas Bostock  * world premiere recordings rec Munich 4-5 Nov 1999 ClassicO CLASS CD 294 [60.23]

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After forays into rare Holst and the symphonies of Ruth Gipps and Arthur Butterworth the present disc returns to a more familiar voice. Malcolm Arnold's Mahlerian, humorous, dramatic, disturbing and disruptive music has been part of the British scene since the late 1940s. The English Dances are well and truly entrenched in the English psyche. The symphonies have made some headway since the late 1970s and have enjoyed three simultaneous CD cycles although all seem now to have stalled with the best prospect for a complete run coming from Naxos and Andrew Penny.

Bostock's way with the symphony (by the way one small regret is that a less celebrated symphony was not tackled e.g. No. 1 or No. 8) is not at all long-winded. He is two minutes shorter than the composer (EMI Classics, 1973) in the first two of the four movements. I am not absolutely sure that a few more strings (with a deeper resource of luxuriant tone) would not have helped but the clarity of the various lines is well put across. Also Bostock judges more than a few moments with wonderful sensitivity. The string theme at 8.01 in the second movement is handled as touchingly as I have ever heard. The Bostock/Munich account is well worth your outlay.

Lewis Foreman's notes are always good value and what a pleasure it is to be hit between the eyes by a spot-on observation such as the parallel drawn between Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 8 with its battery of strange percussion and the similar prominence taken by the percussion in this work.

Divertimento No. 2 is at first brazenly Waltonian. Walton and Arnold were good friends and the interplay between their musics is a source of much interest. The Nocturne is a rather doom-weighted essay in this setting with the ticking of clocks as prominent as it is in the symphony. Played to an audience of 'innocent ears' I wonder how many would recognise it as Arnold? The Chaconne glances sideways at Britten's Purcell Variations and Arnold's own 1940s film music with a touch of 1950s dancehall glitter and a brief appearance from boozy Tam! Well worth hearing!

Machines was written for a 10 minute short film about the steel industry. This is a hell-for-leather evocation of the great foundries and steel works of the era. It may well (as Lewis Foreman comments in his typically lucid and informative notes) be that Arnold had heard Mossolov's tumultuous orchestral movement The Iron Foundry which dates back to the 1920s. A further reference point is the lighter essay on machines and factories from Bliss's music for the film Things to Come. We may also recall Fritz Lang's Metropolis and its portrayal of a machine-dominated underclass. In any event the music is nowhere near as unrelenting as the Russian work.

The Sarabande and Polka are supplements to the English Dances suites written for the ballet. The Hispanic accents of the Sarabande contrast with the gormless Polka which fuses music-hall and Satiesque frou-frou.

The Saint Trinians suite was fashioned by Christopher Palmer. It represents the hilarious Arnold completely unbuttoned and slightly loopy.

Douglas Bostock and his Munich orchestra have worked together for a long time. This shows. Some of the awkwardnesses and thinness of tone which compromised their CD of Bax's sixth symphony have now been reduced or eradicated. There is still the occasional fluff (I noticed one in the brass during the punishing Machines) but far more important is the spiritual accuracy of the performance.

Beautifully designed and printed, the disc presents a polished face to the record buying public. There are more than a few people now who are collecting the complete British Symphonic collection series and this is volume six (of ten).

ClassicO have rushed this disc to the shops. It was only recorded in November last year! The disc is to be welcomed. A pity that the Robert Kett overture could not have been added but this CD is a fine addition to the Arnold discography mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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