Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Cello Concerto, Op. 136 (perf. edition David Ellis) (1988/2000) [20:19]
Concertino for Flute and Strings, Op. 19a (orch. David Ellis (Flute Sonatina)) (1948/2000) [8:16]
Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet, Op. 140 (1990/2001) (rev. perf. edition David Ellis) [12:34]
Saxophone Concerto (arr. orch. David Ellis (Piano Sonata)) (1942/1994) [10:06]
Symphony for Strings, Op. 13 (1946) [21:51]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Esther Ingham (flute); John Turner (recorder); Carl Raven (alto saxophone)
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
Manchester Sinfonia/Richard Howarth (Symphony; Cello Concerto)
rec. Withington Girls’ School, Manchester, 21 Feb 2011 (Cello Concerto); Alderley Edge Methodist Church, Cheshire, 23 Jan 2006 (Concertino, Saxophone Concerto), Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Manchester University, Sept 2003 (Fantasy); St Thomas’ Church Stockport, 9 Oct 2006 (Symphony). DDD
world première recordings of the Concertos and Concertino
NAXOS 8.572640 [73:17]
Malcolm Arnold was a magus of the orchestra. That can be observed in his symphonies, concertos and overtures/dances. He was very productive with twelve works sporting the word ‘symphony’ (Decca, Naxos, Naxos) or its variants and some nineteen concertos (Decca). After alarms and excursions all of the symphonies are on disc; the concertos have been less favoured. The most grievous lacuna here has been the Cello Concerto and this disc plugs the gap with both generosity and style.
Arnold’s concertos span his productive life from the 1940s to the 1980s and so do his symphonies. The Cello Concerto was his last and was premiered - as was the solo cello Fantasy - by Julian Lloyd-Webber. Never broadcast and rapidly disappearing after the RFH premiere one wonders why it never made it into concert and radio lists. Perhaps the performing rights were exclusively held and not further licensed; who knows. Not sure why Novellos did not promote it at a time when Arnold’s star was rising. That’s not the only mystery. When premiered it sported the title The Shakespearean but now that has been magicked away. Did the title have any linkage with the music? The otherwise useful liner-notes here tell us nothing about that. While not as lustrous and catchy as the Oboe Concerto it’s certainly a quicker win than the grim torturous passions of the Seventh and Ninth symphonies. The emotional core is the soulful middle movement. The outer movements are rhythmically lively. The finale admits paragraphs of touching depth at times recalling the Finzi Cello Concerto itself a work that looked in its outer movements to tragedy but leavened and intensified by joy. This is a more compact work but radiates a grand schema. You might compare this with another work which was very much the property of Julian Lloyd-Webber: the Rodrigo Concierto como un Divertimento  (1981) as against the instant popularity of the same composer’s Aranjuez Concerto. Like its companions here the recording is vivid and, as expected, the faultlessly executed and inspired playing of Raphael Wallfisch is totally engrossing. Has anyone recorded as much and always with such acumen and communicative success.
The Flute Concertino is - like all four concertante works here - crafted and made concert-playable by Liverpool-born composer David Ellis on this occasion orchestrated from the 1948 Flute Sonatina. Flautist Esther Ingham catches the winks and beguilement very well indeed and picks up on the resonances with Francis Poulenc; the last movement has Arnold sauntering along very much the boulevardier and flâneur languidly intent on seduction. This is classic Arnold cantabile and can cosy up rather comfortably with his two Flute Concertos recorded for EMI Classics by Richard Adeney and John Solum (sadly never reissued). Ellis kits the work out with idiomatically Arnoldian wings.
John Turner is very much a benevolent immanence when it comes to evangelising work for the recorder among British composers. We are in his capable presence for the five movement Fantasy for recorder and string quartet. He is more than put through his paces as the cheeky humming bird of an Allegro emphasises. The faster music has all the gamin helter-skelter of an Auric film score. Serenades and sprints abound. I do not know who the quartet are.
The Piano Sonata dates from wartime. It forms the springboard for the Saxophone Concerto. This is a most valuable addition as is the Flute Concertino. Carl Raven’s sax plays the field from music that touches base with Glazunov’s concerto (review). It ranges from hauntingly metropolitan nostalgia to the acidic Weill-like sardonics of the finale.
You expect and get real perception from Paul Harris’s liner-note. He draws attention to the Bartókian asperity of the Symphony for Strings which he quite rightly says links with the similarly stern Concerto for Two Violins. It was written for the Kathleen Riddick String Orchestra which in 1946 had his first wife Sheila Nicholson as a leading member. Do not expect Arnold the melodic weaver here although there are tunes in the thorny melos. Fascinating material which places Arnold close to Rawsthorne and Shostakovich. This is the psychological vein from which sprang the asperities and snarling gloom of the Seventh and Ninth symphonies.
The disc is a hands-down winner in the Naxos catalogue and slips nicely into the same rank occupied by Penny’s box of the symphonies. It is in complementary company alongside the equally well targeted Naxos CD of the piano and orchestra works.
Rob Barnett 
A hands-down winner.