> ARNOLD The Collection 74321883922 [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (born 1921)
The Collection

A Grand, Grand Overture, Opus 57
Carnival of Animals, Opus 72

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Concerto for 2 Pianos (3 Hands), Opus 104
Serenade, Opus 26
Larch Trees, Opus 3

David Nettle & Richard Markham (pianos)
London Musici/Mark Stephenson
English Dances, Opus 27 (arr for brass band)
English Dances, Opus 33 (arr for brass band)
Scottish Dances, Opus 59 (arr for brass band)
Little Suite No. 1 for Brass Band, Opus 80
Cornish Dances, Opus 91 (arr for brass band)
Little Suite No. 2 for Brass Band, Opus 93
The Padstow Lifeboat, Opus 94
Fantasy for Brass Band, Opus 114

Grimethorpe Colliery UK Coal Band/Elgar Howarth
Overture, Beckus the Dandipratt, Opus 5
Anniversary Overture, Opus 99

BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Guitar Concerto, Opus 67

Julian Bream (guitar)/Melos Ensemble/Malcolm Arnold
Rec RCA 1959 (Guitar Concerto), RCA & Conifer 1992-97 (remainder)
RCA-BMG 74321 88392-2 [2CDs: 75.36; 76.04]

This RCA collection is issued as an 80th birthday tribute to Sir Malcolm Arnold, a much loved figure in British musical life over many decades, but one, alas, who has not always received due recognition from those in positions of power. Take, for example, the disgraceful affair of his omission from the 2001 Proms season.

The reasons for that kind of 'recognition' problem are emphasised by the contents of this RCA compilation, which boldly and somewhat misguidedly calls itself 'The Collection', implying that anyone wanting to understand the true nature of the composer's achievement need look no further. Yet the stylistic and expressive range contained here offers not a glimpse of the darker side of Arnold's personality, as found so often in the symphonies. Nor is his compelling achievement in the field of chamber music acknowledged. And the film music, so central to his professional life as a composer, is missing too. So to call this 'The Collection' is entirely inappropriate.

However, these two well filled CDs do contain much that is of value. To begin with, there are some entertaining overtures conducted by Vernon Handley, a stalwart interpreter of Arnold. It is a little surprising that Tam o'Shanter could not find its way to be included, but the other items do compensate for this omission. However, I'm not sure how well the Grand, Grand Overture works on CD. It was written for Gerard Hoffnung's famous concerts, and includes parts for floor polisher, rifles and vacuum cleaners; but the wit works better when the visual aspect can be experienced.

The jewel in the crown is actually the oldest recording, dating from 1959. Julian Bream's performance of the Guitar Concerto is beautifully paced and shaped, aided by the disciplined contribution of the Melos Ensemble under the composer's direction. The other concerto, written for two pianos (three hands), is a typical example of Arnold's professionalism in meeting a specified brief, and is typical also in its wit and vivacity. The finale is an uproarious entertainment.

The lighter side of Arnold's nature is found in the contributions from Mark Stephenson and London Musici, who play with great sensitivity in the charming Serenade and the early Larch Trees, Arnold's Opus 3.

Much of the collection is given over to music for brass band, either original or arrangements, performed by the excellent Grimethorpe Band under Elgar Howarth. While this is an important part of Arnold's work, it is surely over-represented here, particularly since the arrangements of the various Dances are not the composer's own, but rather those of Eric Farr. However skilful these might be, the orchestral originals remain far preferable. And that, I suppose, sums up the whole enterprise: good but might have been better still.

Terry Barfoot

A good collection but might have been better still. ... see Full Review

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