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Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Arnold conducts Arnold
Symphony No. 1, Op. 22 (1949) [39:09]
Solitaire – Sarabande and Polka (1956) [8:41]
Concerto for 2 Pianos (3 hands), Op.104 (1969) [14:21]
Tam O'Shanter, Op. 51 (1955 [7:55]
English Dances 3 and 5 (1950) [5:35]
Beckus the Dandipratt, Op. 5 - Comedy Overture (1944)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40 (1953) [25:21]
Overture: Peterloo, Op. 97 (1967) [9:01]
Symphony No. 5, Op. 74 (1961) [33:35]
Cyril Smith (pianos, concerto)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Sy 1, Solitaire), City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra (concerto, Peterloo, Sy 5), Philharmonia Orchestra (Tam,
Dances), Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra (Beckus, Sy 2)
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 17 October 1955 (Sy 2, Beckus);
De Montfort Hall, 13-14 June 1972 (Sy 5, Peterloo),
18-19 June 1970 (concerto); Winter Gardens, Bournemouth,
1979 (1, Solitaire); Kingsway Hall, 19 September 1955
(Tam, 3, 5). ADD. Stereo/Mono (Philharmonia; RPO)
BRITISH COMPOSERS 382146-2 [76:11
generous collection of performances of Arnold’s music under
his own direction brings together recordings set down for
EMI between 1955 and 1979. The exceptions are the versions
of Beckus the Dandipratt and the Second Symphony,
which were made for Phillips, which is now part of Universal
Music Group who, very happily, have licensed these recordings
for inclusion by EMI.
particularly good to have three of the composer’s own recordings
of his symphonies – the Fourth, of course, is on Lyrita.
All three performances here are excellent. In the First Arnold
gets really committed playing from the Bournemouth orchestra.
Already, in this very confident first foray into symphonic
form, I hear echoes of Mahler and Shostakovich. What I note
particularly is Arnold’s ability to sustain tension as a
conductor and to command the listener’s attention, not just
when the music is loud but in quieter passages too. I’d be
interested to know if he was self-taught as a conductor – I’m
not aware that he had any formal tuition.
Second Symphony is my own favourite among the nine. We are
fortunate to have this recording in two respects. Piers Burton-Page
relates in his admirable note that the recording came about
because Beecham cancelled some sessions. Furthermore, the
master tapes have been lost and this very successful transfer
has been taken from LPs. What luxury for Arnold to have Beecham’s
orchestra at his disposal and players of the calibre of,
say, the late Gwydion Brooke to play the ghostly bassoon
solo at the start of the third movement. Perhaps it was the
corporate virtuosity available to him that encouraged Arnold
to take the second movement as fast as I’ve ever heard it.
The helter-skelter music whizzes by in less than four minutes
and the playing has great bite and joie de vivre.
The Mahlerian slow movement is very well done indeed and
when, at 4:59, the music is revealed in the guise of a death
march the effect is particularly powerful. Like the second
movement, the finale is taken at a tremendous lick and the
brass-led fugue, hugely reminiscent of the last movement
of Vaughan Williams’ Fourth symphony, has tremendous power.
The booklet includes a wonderful session photo of a seemingly
carefree Arnold and the orchestra. For all that there are
dark moments in this symphony one senses that great fun was
had by all in the making of this recording.
the Fifth Symphony we come to what may be Arnold’s finest,
most well-rounded symphony. This work, and the Peterloo Overture,
a product of the same sessions, benefits from splendidly
rich EMI analogue sound of the 1970s vintage. Piers Burton-Page
rightly draws attention to the ambivalence behind the work;
the listener is always wondering what’s below the surface
of the music. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the slow
movement, which features a melody that is generously lyrical
even by Arnold’s standards. Burton-Page describes it as “deep-throated” and
it can certainly induce a lump in the listener’s throat.
But is this lovely melody all that it seems? Arnold builds
it to a towering climax, where it’s clear some demons lurk.
Eventually, towards the very end of the movement (9:13) we’re
allowed another glimpse of the melody in its original gentle
state, by which time the listener may feel that glimpse has
been earned. The CBSO players bring the necessary rhythmic
dexterity to the third movement. Then, in the finale, after
several appearances of pipe-and-drum music, Arnold presents
the apotheosis of the slow movement’s main melody and the
first time listener assumes we’re in for a Big Finish. But
no! In a masterstroke, the music subsides very quickly into
a short, subdued ending which leaves the listener with more
questions than answers. The composer obtains a very fine
the symphonies the set includes a number of shorter delights.
The most substantial is the concerto that Arnold wrote for
Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith. This work was premièred
at the 1969 Proms and was a huge success, the promenaders
demanding – and getting - an immediate encore of the finale.
(The first performance was included in the marvellous pair
of CDs issued by BBC Radio Classics to mark Arnold’s 75th birthday.
Sadly, that set is long out of print but if it ever reappears
Arnold aficionados should snap it up.) This recording is
splendid, even without the stimulus of a live audience. The
slow movement, which in some ways reminds me very much of
the comparable movement in Ravel’s G major concerto, is beautifully
done – it’s very sincere music – and the hugely enjoyable
finale is great fun – as it should be.
are also treated to Arnold’s three best-known overtures.
What Piers Burton-Page aptly describes as the “controlled
orchestral mayhem” that is Tam O’Shanter comes across
very well. The 1955 recording reports the highly inventive
orchestration very well and Arnold conducts with huge zest – sample
the boozy trombone at 1:56. This is a work written by a man
who was not only possessed of a great musical imagination
but one whose superb skills as an orchestrator were based
on his intimate knowledge of the symphony orchestra from
within. Beckus the Dandipratt is presented as a “Comedy
Overture”, just as Arnold entitled it. I found it fascinating
to compare this performance with the one that Arnold set
down with the London Philharmonic in 1991 (Reference Recordings
RR-48CD). In 1991 the work required 10:45 compared with 7:23
in 1955. That’s a huge difference in so short a piece. The
1955 performance is given with great brio, beside which the
much slower 1991 version, frankly, sounds lame. This expansiveness
does seem to be something of a feature of Arnold’s later
recordings: it’s as if, after all the troubles in his life,
he viewed his earlier works “through a glass, darkly”. The Peterloo Overture
was commissioned by the British Trades Union Congress to
celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Peterloo
Massacre of 1819 – I tried to imagine today’s TUC issuing
a similar commission but my imagination isn’t that fanciful!
I was struck by Piers Burton-Page’s reference to Charles
Ives in connection with this work – what an apt comparison!
As he very rightly observes, in this work Arnold’s “twin
obsessions of light and dark were powerfully juxtaposed”.
The CBSO deliver superbly for Arnold and I mean it as a compliment
when I say that this is a first-rate performance of first-rate
leaves the four “fillers” in the shape of two dances from
Arnold’s two sets of English Dances and the two movements
from Solitaire. Though it’s a pity that we only get
two of the Dances it’s quite apt that they appear beside
the two pieces from Solitaire as those were the two
additions that Arnold made when, in 1956, Kenneth MacMillan
turned the English Dances into a ballet and wanted
a couple of extra movements. I defy anyone to listen to the
delightfully zany Polka without laughing.
is a quite splendid set and the only sadness is that it now
appears as a posthumous tribute. For newcomers to Arnold’s
music it offers an excellent introduction. Seasoned Arnold
collectors may already have some of these recordings in their
collection but the chance to acquire the 1955 RPO recordings,
never before issued on CD, makes the set a most attractive
proposition, even if some duplication is involved. Either
way, this is an indispensable issue.
And another perspective
from Rob Barnett
took one quick glance at the contents and knew this
was the predictable collection drawn from EMI’s 1970s archives.
Only partly right. Look again. It says Arnold conducts
Arnold and it includes the Second Symphony.
first disc, right enough, is a straight reissue of CDM7 640442
from 1991. The second disc is not the same
as CDM7 633682 topped up with a ‘new’ Beckus. Certainly
that’s the same CBSO/Arnold Fifth Symphony first issued on
LP circa 1972 coupled with the Cornish Dances and Peterloo (ASD2878).
But the Second Symphony on CDM7 633682 had Charles Groves
conducting his old stable-mate the Bournemouth Symphony in
July 1976. This Second Symphony is conducted by Arnold
and the orchestra is the RPO and it’s in mono. Recorded in
1955 it catches the thirty-four year old dynamo delivering
a performance in spate: 25:21 against Groves’ 27:42, Penny’s
27:13 and Hickox’s 31:02. This first version of No. 2 was
recorded by Philips and issued on that label on NBL5021.
There it was in harness with this Beckus and with
John Hollingsworth’s Tam.
tragic and tensely Sibelian First Symphony was issued on
LP as EMI Classics ASD3823. It had been premiered by the
composer conducting the Hallé at the Cheltenham Festival
in 1951. You can hear that Bournemouth EMI recording if you
can find CDM7 640442. Rather like the composer’s Lyrita
recording of his Fourth Symphony [see review]
it is taken at a slow pace (39:08) as if the composer was
the memories, dwelling on the joys and pains reflected in
each bar. For me that recording is something special and
it’s the version by which I came to know the piece. Compare
this with the less plangent and certainly speedier Naxos
at 28:27 and the vivid and explosively recorded 30:13 of
Hickox/LSO on Chandos CHAN 9335. The trouble with these is
that they sound almost perfunctory after the composer’s tranced,
slow-motion, gaze into this Sibelian dynamo of the emotions.
Handley is even more urgently whipped forward and Tapiola-stormy.
He takes the RLPO through the work in 27:12 – the fastest
by far. Yet it works … and the recording is extraordinarily
rich and multi-layered. Just listen to the discreetly chattered
horn fanfare at 02:00 in I. Shortly after, one wonders at
2:35, whether the very recent example of Walton in the pre-battle
morning stirrings of Henry V had lodged in his mind.
Fifth Symphony, written from the heart – and a deeply troubled
one at that - in a style guaranteed to displease the artistic
bureaucracy and academic elite of the time - faced even more
of a struggle. It was completed in 1960, premiered at the
Cheltenham Festival – still welcoming at that stage - but
not given its first BBC radio performance until 1 May 1967.
The Fifth is amongst the finest Arnold. With the First and
the Eighth it is a good place to start your exploration of
the Arnold symphonies. It was the last of the symphonies
that the composer himself was able to conduct complete. Its
inspiration was found in the deaths of four close friends
and the shuddering end of his first marriage. Arnold directing
the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at De Montfort
Hall, Leicester University in June 1972 takes 33:18 by comparison
with Penny’s 32:37. The CBSO original was first issued on
LP as ASD 2878 with the Four Cornish Dances and the
inconsequential Peterloo Overture. Penny’s is a strong
account and as ever with this Naxos set there are many imaginative
touches including the affectionately insinuating way the
symphony starts. The Hickox is not far off the norm at 32:34
and this time is captured (with the Sixth Symphony) in superb
Chandos sound on CHAN9385. After this issue Hickox dropped
the cycle or Chandos dropped Hickox; I do not know which.
In the Concerto for Three Hands Two Pianos (aka Concerto
for Phyllis and Cyril) everything is unbuttoned and
the hair is completely let down. Phyllis Sellick and Cyril
Smith are the undiluted article – although this may leave
you squirming with embarrassment in the finale. However
the first movement is one of Arnold’s grandest inspirations
while the Andante is one of his most leisurely drippingly
sentimental slow movements. The work is heard at its most
extended on this original EMI recording. Intriguingly the
same pair take it a minute slower on the version recorded
with the BBCSO at the Proms on 16 August 1969. There is
another explosively recommendable version on IMP Carlton
BBC Radio Classics (deleted). Also splendid is the recording
made by the redoubtable Boult pupil Douglas Bostock on
RLPO Live with Antonio Piricone and Martin Roscoe.
You don’t know Arnold until you have heard these recordings.
He continues to surprise and delight.
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