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THE MALCOLM ARNOLD EDITION - DECCA UNIVERSAL
Volume 3: Orchestral, Brass and Piano Music 476 5348 4CDs
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)

Volume 3 – Orchestral, Brass and Piano Music
DECCA UNIVERSAL 4765348
[4CDs: 60:17 + 65:52 + 78:31 + 71:30]



CD1

Tam O’Shanter – Overture, Op.51 (1955) [08:24]
Comedy Overture, Beckus the Dandipratt, Op.5 (1943) [07:45]
Water Music, Op.82b (1964) [08:51]
Anniversary Overture, Op.99 (1968) [03:48]
Overture: Peterloo, Op.97 (1967) [10:13]
A Flourish for Orchestra, Op.112 [03:17]
English Dances, Set 1, Op.27 (first recording) (1950) [08:17]
English Dances, Set 2, Op.33 (first recording) (1950) [08:55]
Derek James (trombone) (Tam)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Beckus)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (Dances)
CD 2

Larch Trees, Op.3 (1943) [11:15]
Serenade for Small Orchestra, Op.26 (1950) [11:45]
London Musici/Mark Stephenson
Sweeney Todd – Concert Suite for Orchestra, Op.68a (1984) [20:09]
(Arranged from the complete ballet score by David Ellis in association with the composer in 1984)
Carnival of Animals, Op.72 [08:45]
A Grand, Grand Overture, Op.57 (1956) [07:19]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Overture, Beckus the Dandipratt, Op.5 (1943) [07:16]
Malcolm Arnold (Principal Trumpet)

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum
CD3 – Music for Brass

Quintet for Brass, Op.73 (1961) [11:53]
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/Elgar Howarth
English Dances, Set 1, Op.27 (arr. Farr) (1950) [09:00]
English Dances, Set 2, Op.33 (arr. Farr) (1950) [08:46]
Four Scottish Dances, Op.59 (arr. Farr) (1957) [09:01]
Fantasy for Brass Band, Op.114 (1974) [10:33]
Little Suite No.1 for Brass Band, Op.80 (1965) [07:16]
Little Suite No.2 for Brass Band, Op.93 (1967) []
Four Cornish Dances (1968) [09:32]
The Padstow Lifeboat [04:44]
Grimethorpe Colliery Band/composer (Padstow); Elgar Howarth
CD4

The Complete Solo Piano Music: Allegro in E minor (1937) [00:35]; Three Piano Pieces (1937) [03:27]; Serenade in G (1937) [02:10]; Day Dreams (1938) [03:26]; Two Piano Pieces (1941) [02:19]; Piano Sonata (1942) [09:55]; Three Piano Pieces (1943) [08:14]; Prelude (1945) [02:44]; Variations on a Ukrainian Folksong, Op.9 [14:49]; Children’s Suite, Op.16 [04:20]; Two Bagatelles, Op.18 [04:39]; Eight Children’s Pieces, Op.36 [09:42]; Three Fantasies, Op.129 [04:04]
Benjamin Frith (piano)
(Full track and recording details at end of review)

 

Sir Malcolm Arnold died some four weeks short of his 85th birthday an event that was in part to have been celebrated by a trio of Decca boxed sets of which this is one.

The three boxes return John Kehoe’s splendid Conifer label recordings from the 1990s to the shelves and do so at bargain price. These are creatively supplemented in the present case with non-Conifer material. A whole disc is imported from Koch’s 2004 CD of the solo piano music. The first disc includes Boult’s pensionable version of the English Dances – significant also because this was the works’ first recording. The second serves up Beckus by Eduard Van Beinum and the LPO with Arnold as principal trumpet.

As mentioned in my review of the symphonies there is a downside to these sets and that is that Piers Burton Page’s thorough notes have disappeared, to be replaced with valuable but much more concentrated commentary.

These three boxes are of course a stunning achievement. The Arnold Edition taken together is the largest-ever collection of his concert music, with 61 works spread across three volumes and 13 discs. It’s a triumph and a privilege for Decca Universal that they have been able to come to an arrangement with John Kehoe, former Director of Artists and Repertoire at Conifer Classics. Of course it’s not completely Coniferous. In the case of the present box Decca themselves trail-blazed with 1950s recordings of the English Dances (Boult), there’s Tam conducted by Van Beinum in 1948 and the Brass Quintet recorded by Decca in 1970 by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.

Onwards to the first disc: Modern recordings of Tam and Beckus, boozy reprobates the pair, are placed side by side. Handley puts across the Sibelian echoes with gratifying focus and made me forget how irritated I thought I would become at hearing these pieces yet again. The three pieces that make up Water Music are best thought of as a late supplement to the two sets of English Dances. The brief Anniversary Overture is another brilliant entry in the lists here performed with almost intimidating force yet lightening for a gracious summer breeze typical of English pastoralism. It must have delighted the ex-pats among the ranks of the Hong Kong Phil for whose founding this was written. It continues to delight. I have been quite nasty about the Peterloo Overture since I first heard it as a filler to the composer’s recording of the Fifth Symphony with the CBSO. I am afraid I still find it contrived – it is as if everything happens too quickly – there is the material for a searing symphony here but at overture-length everything seems grafted rather than grown. This is however the work’s best recording and performance. A Flourish was written in 1972 as a commission from the City of Bristol for the 500th year since its Charter. The work is a sort of concentrated digest of Arnoldian vocabulary concentrated into a highly economical 3:20 – it’s done here with startling majesty.

The first disc ends with a staple of the Decca catalogue from Ace of Clubs ACLs to Eclipse ECS LPs: the two sets of English Dances. Here Decca have done their level best to soften the passage of the years by setting the recording level well down. However when you compensate there is still that hard shrillness to grapple with. Hiss can just about be heard with the volume set high. We are, after all, 36 years back in time from the Conifer-Handley sessions. Boult handles each dance with jubilation and measured energy. The sound still strikes me as under-nourished and this extends to all parts of the orchestra. The 'image' is not at all happy although the engineers have tried hard. Much can be forgiven though when it comes to the lovely Mesto and the Allegro Risoluto is surely the very recording used by the BBC for several of its signature tunes. These are gems but are far better represented on any of a host of other recordings - my personal preference being the Lyrita CD conducted by the composer review review. I suspect Handley would have made a joyous job of these national treasures at least going by the exuberant performances heard in Liverpool with the RLPO in 2004.

If we have versions of the English Dances coming out of our ears the second disc includes some real rarities. The early overture-length Larch Trees is an archetypical English pastoral tone poem conducted by Mark Stephenson but with some Debussian cross-currents also evident in his piano music of the time. The Serenade Op. 38 is another sheer delight – what an endlessly inventive composer Arnold was. Certainly he is distinctive so you can identify him as easily as you can Martinu. This is all lovingly done by the London Musici who now stand to one side for Vernon Handley and various orchestras. There are some pleasing moments in the Sweeney Todd concert suite – not least the nonchalant clarinet at 9:38 – but it’s not essential Arnold. It was written for a John Cranko ballet in 1959 and appears here in new duds provided by David Ellis. The Carnival of the Animals extended the movements of Saint-Saëns’ famous work. It was written for a Hoffnung Festival. One can only wonder at what antics accompanied the gunshot impacts of Sheep – fascinating all the same; as if the shots were designed to prevent the sheep from sending us off to sleep. Mice on the other hand sounds very mice-like – more benevolent rodents than we have experienced at the hands of Rodion Shchedrin anyway. Towards the end they seem to don top-hats and frock coats. Bats which is done and dusted in 0:29 remains a mystery and can only have been designed to have been seen as well as heard. Overall this ranks as one of the discoveries of the set for its wit and bristlingly creative invention.

A Grand Grand Overture is Arnold at his most loony (gunshots and three vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher, four rifles), wild and woolly, bustling with Ealing comedy anarchy, punctuated with the rumbling of an imposing Gothic organ, yet interspersed with material from the Fifth Symphony. The final uproarious bars borrow and endlessly shuffle and reshuffle the gestures of a hundred classic finales - ultimately settling on Tchaikovsky - good choice! The overture was written for one of the Hoffnung Festivals during the late 1950s.

The 1947 recording of Beckus is distressed and this becomes really obvious in the fortissimo passages. The quieter sections including those where Arnold can be heard as principal trumpet are bright as a new coin but any tutti can be a real trial for the ears. It’s a still a delight to have and served to remind me how the composer must have had Chabrier’s España in his mind when writing the piece.

Disc 3 includes both original works and arrangements for brass band. It kicks off with the carolling display and sheer joy in life of the Brass Quintet. It was recorded in April 1970 at St Johns Smith Square, London and is played with all-conquering virtuosity both as to the notes and the bubbling melodious underpinning. The Decca recording is upfront and assertive. Contrast this with the rest of the disc where although the fireworks are given plenty of grunt and oomph the balance is subtly struck. The two sets of English Dances and the Scottish Dances are extremely enjoyable but one feels the want of the colour and sometimes the want of agility contributed by woodwind and strings in the originals. The best example is the most testing for the arranger’s art: the lovely Allegretto of the Four Scottish Dances. This is a piece where the harp, violins and woodwind are essentials.

Turning to works originally written for brass the op. 114 Fantasy for brass band was written for the 1974 brass band championships. It is vintage Arnold with no diminution of the great composer’s powers. This is music that is simultaneously poetic, elegiac, chummy, regal, sentimental and haunted. It was written the year after the dark journeying of the Seventh Symphony. The two Little Suites for brass band are superbly done without the grandstanding balance of the Reference Recordings versions (RR-66CD) for the Dallas Wind Symphony with Jerry Junkin. These are clean downright honest unspectacular recordings of spectacular works. This is music-making presented with dour integrity letting the music do its own persuading which it richly does: try the lovely Siciliano in the First Suite. Because of their nature and sound-world of the original the transcription of the Cornish Dances works much better than in the English Dances and Scottish Dances. Even the Andantino that terror of half-lights and mistily suggestive textures works well in the Cornish Dances (tr. 24).

Elgar Howarth hands over the baton to the composer for The Padstow Lifeboat march. This is suitably rambunctious, cheery and full of confidence. The sauntering trio section goes with a smile and a solo trumpet gambols and somersaults over the sedate tune. We do not miss out on Tapiola-like gales either and at the end the trumpet’s descant adds a nautically anarchic paraph over the top of the heavyweight march.

The Frith disc originally made for Koch is the single most comprehensive collection of Arnold’s piano music – in fact the complete piano music. There are quite a few lovely but nonetheless derivative solos here from early in his career. The Three Piano Pieces of 1937 doff a hat and possibly a wig as well to the eighteenth century. Day Dreams is a gentle zephyr of a piece – part-smiling pastoral, part-Debussy, part-Gershwin. Debussy again reappears in the gloriously soulful Lament (1943). In 1941 the emphatic Allegro of the Two Piano Pieces gives way to a delightful amalgam of aggressive Prokofiev and elusive Satie. The magical Piano Sonata of 1941 is redolent of Lambert and Debussy (clearly a strong influence at the time) but you will also hear fore-shadowings of the Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril as well. Arnold’s gift for compression and succinctness of expression are evident from these many short piano pieces. Even the Sonata runs to just short of ten minutes and there are fourteen didactic pieces for children. The longest piece here is 14:55 in the shape of the Ukrainian Folksong Variations with its intriguing mix of Prokofiev, Lambert and distinctive Arnoldian gestures. Mark Bebbington has recently issued on the Somm label a selection of these pieces including Arnold’s Sonata and the Variations with the Lambert sonata and other solos. There the piano sounds superior although I do not underestimate the warm aura created by the Koch team. Arnold’s Two Bagatelles Op. 18 show the composer venturing gingerly into dissonant waters but they are not typical. Fascinatingly Frith also gives us the Three Fantasies from 1986 where voluptuously calculated harmonies have given way to a new skeletal essence – listen to the second fantasy to see what I mean.

There remain plenty of lacunae in the Arnold discography. The following are unrecorded: the operas The Dancing Master and The Open Window, an early symphonic suite, the Burlesque for horn and orchestra (premiered at the first Northampton Arnold Festival), the overture Curtain Up, incidental music to The Tempest, the ballet Electra, the late Cello Concerto The Shakespearian written for and premiered by Julian Lloyd-Webber and the John Clare cantata not to mention the Fantasy for audience and orchestra and the Grand Concerto Gastronomique for eater, waiter, food, orchestra.

This box cannot escape the charge of miscellany – instead it heartily embraces it. Don’t let that put you off. There are some grand discoveries here including the piano sonata, Carnival of the Animals, A Flourish, The Larch Trees, the best-ever recordings of the Brass Quintet, the modern recordings of Beckus and Tam and much else.

Rob Barnett

Volume 1 The symphonies Volume 2 The Concertos Volume 3 Orchestral Music etc.


THE MALCOLM ARNOLD EDITION – Detailed track listing


Volume 3 – ORCHESTRAL, BRASS and PIANO MUSIC
CD1

Tam O’Shanter – Overture, Op.51 08:24

Derek James (trombone)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1993 Conifer Records Ltd.
Recording Producer: Andrew Keener
Recording Engineer: Tryggvi Tryggvason
Assistant Engineer: Mike Cox
Recorded on 19-20 April 1993 at Henry Wood Hall, London
Comedy Overture, Beckus the Dandipratt, Op.5 07:45

BBC Concert Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1998 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Walton
Recording Engineer: Richard Millard
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 13-15 October 1997
Water Music, Op.82b 08:51

1. Allegro maestoso 03:09
2. Andantino 03:58
3. Vivace 01:44
BBC Concert Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1998 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Walton
Recording Engineer: Richard Millard
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 13-15 October 1997
Anniversary Overture, Op.99 03:48

BBC Concert Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1998 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Walton
Recording Engineer: Richard Millard
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 13-15 October 1997
Overture: Peterloo, Op.97 10:13

BBC Concert Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1998 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Walton
Recording Engineer: Richard Millard
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 13-15 October 1997
A Flourish for Orchestra, Op.112 03:17

BBC Concert Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1998 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Walton
Recording Engineer: Richard Millard
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, London, 13-15 October 1997
English Dances, Set 1, Op.27 (first recording) 08:17
1. Andantino 02:46
2. Vivace 01:44
3. Mesto 02:15
4. Allegro risoluto 01:32
Lengnick

English Dances, Set 2, Op.33 (first recording) 08:55
1. Allegro non troppo 02:46
2. Con brio 01:31
3. Grazioso 02:17
4. Giubiloso – Lento e mesto 02:21
Lengnick

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult
1954 Decca Music Group Limited
Recording Producer: James Walker
Recording Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson
Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, 1-2 November 1954

CD 2

Larch Trees, Op.3 11:15

London Musici
Mark Stephenson
1992 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Tim Handley
Recording Engineer: Nick Parker
Recorded 10, 11 and 13 December 1991 in Watford Town Hall
Serenade for Small Orchestra, Op.26 11:45

1. Allegretto 03:26
2. Andante con moto 04:42
3. Allegro vivace 02:37
London Musici
Mark Stephenson
1992 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Tim Handley
Recording Engineer: Nick Parker
Recorded 10, 11 and 13 December 1991 in Watford Town Hall
Sweeney Todd – Concert Suite for Orchestra, Op.68a 20:09

(Arranged from the complete ballet score by David Ellis in association with the composer in 1984)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley
P1993 Conifer Records Ltd.
Recording Producer: Andrew Keener
Recording Engineer: Tryggvi Tryggvason
Assistant Engineer: Mike Cox
Recorded on 19-20 April 1993 at Henry Wood Hall, London
Carnival of Animals, Op.72 08:45

1. The Giraffe 01:19
2. Sheep 02:00
3. Cows 01:24
4. Mice 01:35
5. Jumbo 02:01
6. Chiroptera (Bats) 00:26
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley
1994 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Keener
Recording Engineer: Tryggvi Tryggvason
Assistant Engineer: Andrew Hallifax
Recorded on 29 and 31 May 1994 at All Saints’ Church, Petersham, Surrey
A Grand, Grand Overture, Op.57 07:19

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley
P1994 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Andrew Keener
Recording Engineer: Tryggvi Tryggvason
Assistant Engineer: Andrew Hallifax
Recorded on 29 and 31 May 1994 at All Saints’ Church, Petersham, Surrey
Overture, Beckus the Dandipratt, Op.5 07:16
Malcolm Arnold (Principal Trumpet)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Eduard van Beinum
1947 Decca Music Group
Recording Producer: Victor Olof
Recording Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson
Recorded on 16 December 1947 at Kingsway Hall, London


CD3 – Music for Brass

Quintet for Brass, Op.73 11:53

1. Allegro vivace 03:57
2. Chaconne 04:47
3. Con brio 03:09
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
Elgar Howarth
Recording Producer: Chris Hazell
Recording Engineer: Stan Goodall
Decca Music Group
English Dances, Set 1, Op.27 (arr. Farr) 09:00
1. Andantino 03:09
2. Vivace 01:45
3. Mesto 02:38
4. Allegro risoluto 01:28
English Dances, Set 2, Op.33 (arr. Farr) 08:46
1. Allegro non troppo 02:50
2. Con brio 01:31
3. Grazioso 02:11
4. Giubiloso – Lento e mesto 02:14
4 Scottish Dances, Op.59 (arr. Farr) 09:01
1. Pesante 02:07
2. Vivace 02:06
3. Allegretto 03:32
4. Con brio 01:16

Fantasy for Brass Band, Op.114 10:33


Prelude (Allegro moderato) – Dance (Allegretto) -

Elegy (Andante con moto) – Scherzo (Vivace) –
Postlude (Allegro moderato-Vivace)
Little Suite No.1 for Brass Band, Op.80 07:16

1. Prelude (Allegro ma non troppo) 02:05
2. Sicilano (Andantino) 03:19
3. Rondo (Allegro vivace) 01:57
Little Suite No.2 for Brass Band, Op.93

1. Round: Allegro molto e ritmico
2. Cavatina: Andante con moto
3. Galop: Presto
4 Cornish Dances 09:32

1. Vivace 01:33
2. Andantino 03:18
3. Con moto e sempre senza parodia 02:34
4. Allegro ma non troppo 02:17
Faber Music

The Padstow Lifeboat

conducted by the composer 04:44
Henrees Music

Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Elgar Howarth
1993 Conifer Records Limited
Recording Producer: Nicholas Childs
Assistant Producer: Alison Childs
Recording Engineer: Harold Barnes
Recorded 15-16 April 1993 at Dewsbury Town Hall
CD4
The Complete Solo Piano Music 71:30

1. Allegro in E minor (1937) 00:35
2-4. Three Piano Pieces (1937) 03:27
5. Serenade in G (1937) 02:10
6. Day Dreams (1938) 03:26
7-8. Two Piano Pieces (1941) 02:19
9. Piano Sonata (1942) 09:55
10-12. Three Piano Pieces (1943) 08:14
13. Prelude (1945) 02:44
14. Variations on a Ukrainian Folksong, Op.9 14:49
15-20. Children’s Suite, Op.16 04:20
21-22. Two Bagatelles, Op.18 04:39
23-30. Eight Children’s Pieces, Op.36 09:42
31-33. Three Fantasies, Op.129 04:04
Benjamin Frith (piano)
2003 KOCH International – previously issued on CD as Koch 37162-2
Recording Producer and Engineer: Chris Thorpe
Recorded at Churchill College, Worksop


 



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