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Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, Op.20 (1949) [15:58]
Oboe Concerto Op.39 (1952) [13:00]
Concerto for Flute and Strings, Op.45 (1954) [10:41]
Concerto No.2 for Horn and Strings, Op.58 (1956) [13:58]
Concerto No.2 for Flute and Orchestra, Op.111 (1972) [12:42]
Trumpet Concerto (1982) [8:02]
Janet Hilton (clarinet)
Gordon Hunt (oboe)
Richard Adeney (flute)
Alan Civil (French Horn)
John Wallace (trumpet)
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman Del Mar; Ronald Thomas (flute concertos)
rec. Christchurch Priory, 3-4 September 1984 (in presence of composer) (flute concertos); Guildhall, Southampton, 10-11 April 1979; 1 July 1979. ADD (flute); DDD
EMI CLASSICS 0946 3 70563 2 5 [79:34]


You may well recognise the line-up here from EMI Studio CDM 7 63491 2 – the transfers are unchanged for this British Composers edition of some seminal concerto performances, none of which is led by the composer himself.

The quintet of soloists pretty much speaks for itself – Richard Adeney, so much the prieux chevalier of Arnold’s flute concertos, Janet Hilton (not Jane – a typo is at work on the jewel case), Alan Civil, Gordon Hunt and John Wallace.

Let’s take Hilton’s First Clarinet Concerto first, a work that has always impressed me more than the somewhat forced Second. Hilton plays this with considerable dexterity, tonal allure and a ripe sense of unease – note her exploration of the tension of the central movement and the florid giocoso flourish of her finale. She and Del Mar make something big out of it but London Musici and Mark Stephenson back Michael Collins on Conifer CDCF172 in a reading altogether more lithe and determined. Fortunately the concerto is big enough to withstand both approaches.

Whereas the First Clarinet Concerto was written for Frederick Thurston, then acknowledged as one of the two leading British players – the other was Reginald Kell – the Oboe Concerto was perhaps inevitably destined for Leon Goossens. Its brand of sinuous lyricism seldom palls in a good performance – and Gordon Hunt’s is a very good performance. Even the fresh air jaunt is admirable here, the vivace central movement blisteringly fast. 

A close colleague of the composer’s, Richard Adeney makes the most appropriate soloist for both flute concertos. The First was dedicated to him and with Ronald Thomas now at the helm of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta he plays with memorable control and eloquence. On CDCF172 we find that Karen Jones, rather like Michael Collins, pushes tempi forward decisively offering a more tensile view of the dissonances. That’s also the case with the opening movement of the Second Flute Concerto – where Jones can be found on Conifer VDCF 228; the coupling of the Second Clarinet Concerto is not replicated here. The Second receives a tremendously exciting reading, notwithstanding the fact that others are quicker in strict tempo terms. The playing explores the considerable vein of gravity that runs through the work.

The Horn Concerto was written for Dennis Brain and is here in the hands of Alan Civil. We can contrast the Civil-Del Mar performance with one given in 1969 with Civil with the composer conducting, a 75th Birthday release on BBC Radio Classics 1 565691817 from the mid-1990s. This makes a very different case for the work – and it’s Civil’s superb poise that ensures that both approaches sound plausible. Arnold knocks off a minute from Del Mar in the central movement rather in the way that the Mark Stephenson recordings are consistently quicker than these Del Mar-Thomas readings.

Finally there’s the Trumpet Concerto – Arnold’s own instrument of course – with John Wallace. It’s the slightest of the six concertos in this set. Its call to arms is tigerish and full of vigour and its finale assertive and demanding.

This is a fine collection. Treat it either as a stand-alone conspectus or as an adjunct to those big Decca Arnold Edition boxes. Either way no disappointment will ensue.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett



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