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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Malcolm ARNOLD (b.1921)
English Dances sets 1 and 2 (1950, 1951)
Serenade for small orchestra (1950)
Sinfonietta No 1 (1954)
Sinfonietta No 2 (1958)
Sinfonietta No 3 (1964)
Four Cornish Dances (1968)
Bournemouth SO/Charles Groves (English Dances); Bournemouth Sinfonietta (Serenade; Sinf 3); Philharmonia/Neville Dilkes (Sinfs 1/2); City of Birmingham SO/composer
12/13 July 1976 Guildhall, Southampton (English Dances); 10-11 April, 1 July 1979 (Serenade; Sinf 3); 8, 11 Aug 1977, Studio 1, Abbey Rd, London (Sinf 1/2); 13-14 June 1972 De Montfort Hall, Leicester (Cornish) ADD
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 5 74780 2 [76.16]
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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.

Rob Barnett

 


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