The seventies saw a stream of recording activity for
Malcolm Arnold's music and this was almost exclusively due to the commitment
of EMI. This disc represents a swathe from those recordings. The symphonies
are not on show here although numbers 1, 2 and 5 were certainly part
of that era's rebirth for Arnold.
Looking at the playing times for the 25 tracks, only
one movement exceeds five minutes; most are between 2 and 3 minutes.
Arnold's achievement across small spans is gem-like; mood and picture
pieces grouped into Serenades, Dances and little symphonies - almost
Mozartian. His mood pieces can be compared with the micro-structures
of Liadov (e.g. Baba-Yaga) where aim and means are in ideal balance.
Groves had long been associated with Arnold. He conducted
the seventh and eighth symphonies and championed Arnold during his time
with the Bournemouth orchestra as well as with the BBC Northern (now
the BBC Phil) in Manchester. I think the composer has the edge
on Groves in his Lyrita disc of the Dances but Groves, the orchestra
and EMI provide zestful performances. Pleasure is only very finely moderated
by the hint of less than opulent tone in the string sound. This is exacerbated
in the delightful Serenade where the Bournemouth Sinfonietta deliver
a noticeably more wiry sound that the full band. Arnold's relaxed lyrical
tone and clarity of orchestration is fully evident especially in the
first two of the three movements. Only the last movement rings a little
hollow although all the unmistakable Arnold hallmarks are present.
The three little symphonies (sinfoniettas) are cassation-like
rather than concentrated epics (nothing of Havergal Brian's Symphonia
Brevis, nor Rubbra 11, nor Alwyn 5 here) although the colours are
darker and occasionally one senses the mildew on the foliage. The First
was written for the Boyd Neel orchestra and is ingratiating but less
demonstrative than the Dances. The central movement has hints of both
Sibelius (Tapiola) and Mahler. The Philharmonia really let rip
in the Allegro con Brio. The Second is a turn or two more serious
in the first two movements but unbuttons for the fruity flutey Allegro
con brio. After two three movement sinfoniettas the Third moves
to four and a more poignant, peremptory and acidic tone. Take the andante
for example which steers close to the careworn disillusion of Frank
Bridge and even Kurt Weill. The mood is extremely well sustained under
both Ronald Thomas and Neville Dilkes.
The prize closes the disc. The CBSO Cornish Dances
were released on LP with the breathtakingly fine Fifth Symphony
and the rather raucous and inconsequential Peterloo Overture.
The composer is at the helm and lays wholeheartedly into the exuberant
dances and yet has the poetic restraint to suggest the fog-shivering
ghosts of the eerie andantino - a demonstration track still sounding
refined. The steam engines of Trevithick are delightfully evoked by
the light percussion ostinati of the Allegro and the echoes of
Kodaly's Hary Janos have never been so strongly put across.
A generously timed and hearted disc which could
happily form the cornerstone of any Arnold collection. It would now
be quite natural for EMI to add to their British Composers series a
CD of the 1970s era recordings of the concertos for clarinet, oboe,
trumpet and horn.