Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Malcolm ARNOLD (b.1921)
The British Music Collection
Guitar Concerto
Eduardo Fernandez (guitar)/ECO/Barry Wordsworth
English Dances
Symphony for Brass Instruments
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/Howard Snell
Brass Quintet
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/Philip Jones
rec: 1954 (English Dances); 1970 (Quintet); 1979 (Symphony); 1990 (Concerto).
DECCA 468-302-2 [75.03] midprice
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Combining a quintet with some dances and a concerto with a symphony makes for a logical collection. It is intriguing, though, that the works (choice dictated by catalogue considerations, naturally) are not quite what you might expect. The symphony and the quintet are for brass and, of course, Arnold was a crack trumpeter during his salad says with the LPO. The dances are for orchestra and the concerto is for guitar rather than piano.

The Guitar Concerto has first and final movements that blend the grace of a pavane, the animalistic drive of Django Reinhardt's playing and the warm gardens of Ponce's Mexico and de Falla's Granada. Surely Stanley Myers must have heard the Allegro before he wrote his Cavatina - or was it the other way round? The Lento is bluesy but also astringent - nightmare-ish and, for me, echoing across to Richard Rodney Bennett's Third Symphony. This is also the only DDD recording on the disc. A typically lovely work (just listen to the guitar at 1.46 in the con brio movement!) though I am not sure that the 11 minute lento has the concentration to sustain such a long span.

Hiss is very noticeable in the Eight English Dances. We are, after all, 36 years back in time from the Concerto sessions. Boult handles each dance with jubilation and measured energy. The sound, though, strikes me as under-nourished and this extends to all parts of the orchestra. The 'image' is not at all happy and this strikes me as a 'bruised apple' in the tub. Much can be forgiven when it comes to the lovely Mesto. The Allegro Risoluto is surely the very recording used by the BBC for several of its signature tunes all those years ago. These are gems but they are far better represented on any of a host of other recordings - my personal preference being the Lyrita CD conducted by the composer (stock still available, so I understand, from Harold Moores in Great Marlborough Street, London).

Arnold wrote two symphonies outside the numbered canon. The earliest was the Symphony for Strings (crackingly done by Handley on Conifer) and here, from 1970, a Symphony For The Brass and written for virtuosos every one. It is good that the symphony is played by its dedicatees. When originally released on LP it was coupled with various other contemporary pieces including ones by Leonard Salzedo (I think) and Raymond Premru. Recording standards are well up to the excellence of Decca's 1980s and no-one need worry about the analogue origins - FFRR with a vengeance! The work is tough with few concessions - listen to the gritty Andante con moto. It is a natural companion to the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies except in the silvery buffoonery of the Allegro con brio which links across to the brio movement of the Quintet, a work which otherwise also has the same ecstatic-depressive dimension that can be found in his contemporary masterpieces of the Cornish years: the Fifth Symphony and the Cornish Dances.

I hope that some dashing entrepreneur will rescue Handley's complete Conifer cycle of all nine numbered symphonies out of deletion Valhalla. This should happen, preferably, at less than full price and in a single box. In the same spirit of adventure we need premiere recordings of his short opera The Return of Odysseus (perhaps it could be coupled with Inglis Gundry's opera on the same subject) and of the Cello Concerto (The Shakespearean) which he wrote for Andrew Lloyd Webber and which has not seen the light of day since its premiere in the 1970s.

This is a coupling which, while not dazzlingly perfect, offers intriguing contrast aplenty. The Guitar Concerto is the easy winner.

Rob Barnett

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