There is a barely-contained
exuberance about the performances on
this disc. All of the sets are superbly
crafted and no single dance outstays
its welcome (the longest is just over
five minutes, the Sarabande from Solitaire).
The transparency of Lyrita’s recording
means that there are no distractions
to enjoyment, while conveying the visceral
life of, for example, the last dance
from the first set of English Dances
(complete with horn whoops). Much of
the ‘rightness’ of the settings surely
comes from Arnold’s experience as a
film music composer – there is a prevailing
confidence that removes all doubts and
threatens to bring a smile to the face
of even the most hardened of modernists.
Much of the scoring is bright, in accordance
with the breezy nature of much of the
material. The final movement of the
second set of English Dances
ends with a Lento e maestoso section,
giving both sets the requisite sense
of closure. Of particular note along
the way is the beautiful oboe solo of
the Grazioso (set 2, third movement).
English ‘Sarabande’ from the ballet
Solitaire is given a tender,
meticulously crafted account and is
one of the highlights of the disc.
feature of the Irish Dances is
that Arnold chooses to close with a
Vivace that, whilst beginning
in an appropriately brash manner, moves
to a gossamer lightness (almost Arnold’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream music!).
The four Scottish
Dances (written for the BBC Light
Music Festival) is a clear evocation
of the music of that country, from the
bagpipe imitations through to the use
of the Reel and the ‘Scotch-snap’ rhythm.
The second dance features a ‘tipsy’
middle section while the third seems
to be pure film music. Appropriately,
perhaps, a raucous ‘Con brio’
rounds things off.
The final set is of
Cornish Dances. Arnold lived
in Cornwall for a number of years and
the area clearly had a deep effect on
him. There is an almost tangible affection
that shines through the music (a nice
indicator of which is his instruction
for the march that makes up the third
dance – ‘sempre senza parodia’).
A final ‘Allegro ma non troppo’
is perhaps surprisingly shifty, motifs
having rhythms that in other contexts
may have been thought of as jaunty here
carrying an undercurrent of disquiet.
Subsequent to the recording of these
dances Malcolm Arnold completed a set
of Welsh dance. Their exists a recording
of a complete set of dances (English,
Scottish, Cornish, Irish, Welsh) on
Naxos 8.553526 [review]
Malcolm Arnold Society
Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold
by Paul Jackson