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