contrasting Malcolm Arnolds are on display here but in none
of these five works is he anything other than succinct. The
three Little Suites reach from the glorious 1950s
and 1960s as far as 1990. They are indeed little and they put
no strain on the attention of the listener. That they are modest
in duration however does not mean that they are trivial in impact.
The first two Little Suites are each in three movements. No.
1 has a stately and noble – almost Elgarian Prelude.
It is marked Maestoso and it is given a generously broad
gait. The Allegretto sings with a young heart. Arnold
is gifted this way and no doubt it carries the engaging slightly
sentimental manner of his film music. There is a rumbustious
Waltonian March conclusion similar in manner to sections
of the recently BBC revived overture Metropolis by the
late John Veale. This is decked with irresistibly throaty bird-song
inflected chirps providing an ostinato above which a masculine
ebullience lofts the march on high in a manner we know from
the English Dances. No. 2 is similarly
short. The Overture is optimistic, magnificently orchestrated
and serenading in its manner. The central Ballad is at
first a far more haunted affair than the Allegretto of
No. 1. Not that it does not soon find a lyric touch in best
commercial manner but it is hesitant and there is some dark
occlusion. The Vivace has the dance vigour of counterpart
movements by Creston or Harris and the use of bongos and pattering
and clicking percussion emphasises an element which we also
hear in the Commonwealth Christmas Overture and five
years later in the Fourth Symphony. The Manx Suite is
his Third Little Suite which was premiered by the Manx
Youth Orchestra conducted by Alan Pickard. The five movements
are despatched in just over nine minutes. The music is drawn
directly from Manx folk songs and in the last two movements
Arnold simply orchestrates a single melodic line; the one exception
being a light but magically atmospheric touch on the tam-tam
at the start and end of the longish Lento.
for 28 Players is a late-ish piece written in St Merryn
in Cornwall. It was premiered on 25 April 1970 at the Queen
Elizabeth Hall, London by the ECO with the composer conducting.
As I mentioned in my review of the concertos volume of Decca’s
splendid Malcolm Arnold Edition this is a work of thrumming
tension. It is suggestive of Bernard Herrmann in the stalking
and ruthlessly hunting power of the first movement. There is
also something of Britten’s Serenade in the tautly fanfaring
string writing of the finale. This is a work dating from some
of Arnold’s darkest days as the Cornish period came to an end
and the Irish sojourn began … and it shows especially in the
ambiguities and diaphanously tentative mastery of the central
Larghetto. Two years in the future lay the similarly
inclined Seventh Symphony but only the year before there had
been the hysterically ebullient Concerto for Phyllis and
Arnold wrote the
intriguing Gipps Variations in 1977. Typically
they are the length of a concert overture and in that span we
hear an Introduction and Theme as well as six variations. All
seven movements are separately tracked. The Variations are well
worth hearing – a tribute from one neglected composer to another.
In them there is nothing tentative. Arnold injects doses of
dodecaphonic material into this work and Gipps must have wondered
as she was well known as a rejectionist of the Second Viennese
School. Alongside such adventures we also get interludes that
are strongly suggestive of RVW. The theme is, by the way, from
Gipps 1953 Coronation March.
There are good notes
by Mervyn Cooke.
The Little Suites
for orchestra are good to have all on a single disc. There’s no
doubting that they are packed with vintage Arnold even if the
later movements of the Manx Suite can be pretty spartan.
The Concerto is the best version to be had and like the rest of
the disc it is superbly recorded - better than the Conifer original
with Handley conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra on vol. 2 of
the Decca Edition. The Gipps Variations are intriguing
material for Arnold fans.
Hickox and his orchestra
together with the Chandos technical team are represented at
their very best on this disc. I have been something of a critic
of this conductor for what I have occasional felt was a rather
impersonal conveyor belt approach to British music but here
I have nothing but praise for his insight and grasp of the idiom.