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Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (b. 1921)
English Dancesa (1950s): Set 1, Op. 27 [10’11]; Set 2, Op. 33 [7’13]. Solitaire (1956) – Sarabande [5’39]; Polka [2’46]. Irish Dances, Op. 126 (1986) [9’28]. Scottish Dances, Op. 59a (1957) [10’33]. Cornish Dances, Op. 91a (1966) [12’40].
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Arnold.
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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).

The quintessentially English ‘Sarabande’ from the ballet Solitaire is given a tender, meticulously crafted account and is one of the highlights of the disc.

The distinguishing 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.

Colin Clarke


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]

The Lyrita catalogue

The Malcolm Arnold Society

The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold by Paul Jackson

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