Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
The Complete Brass Chamber Music
Fanfare for Louis (1970) [2:07]
Brass Quintet No. 1, Op. 73 (1961) [12:23]
Fantasy for B flat Trumpet, Op. 100 (1969) [3:46]
Little Suite for Brass No. 1, Op. 80 (1963) [7:37]
Fantasy for Horn, Op. 88 (1966) [4:18]
Little Suite for Brass No. 2, Op. 93 (1967) [6:38]
Fantasy for Trombone, Op. 101 (1969) [3:13]
Little Suite for Brass No. 3, Op. 131 (1987) [2:25]
Fantasy for Tuba, Op. 102 (1969) [4:32]
Brass Quintet No. 2, Op. 132 (1987) [5:35]
Symphony for Brass, Op. 123 (1978) [23:44]
Fine Arts Brass (Simon Lenton and Angela Whelan (trumpets); Tim Thorpe (horn); Katy Pryce (trombone); Sam Elliott (tuba)); Fine Arts Brass Quintet with Bryan Allen and Andy Culshaw (trumpets), Simon Hogg, Kevin Pitt, Lyndon Meredith (trombones), Stephen Roberts (conductor) (Symphony).
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK, 2 April 2006 (Symphony), 6-7 June 2006 (Quintets and Fantasies). DDD
NIMBUS NI 5804 [79:21]

This recording turned out to be a memorial to the composer who died on 23 September 2006, and what a fitting memorial it was. In addition to being a gifted and under-appreciated composer, Malcolm Arnold had been a first-class trumpeter, having played in both the BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras. He always displayed a real affinity for writing for the trumpet and for the other brass instruments as well. Evidence of that is clearly demonstrated here in performances of exciting virtuosity and joy. Thomas Pridonoff gave the disc an enthusiastic review back in 2007 and I can only echo his enthusiasm. If you are looking for Arnoldís brass chamber music, this is the disc for you. All of the performances here are first class in every way and the recorded sound is at the same high level. The discís program is well laid out, too, with various fantasies for individual instruments interspersed between the larger ensemble works. There isnít a dud among them either, though I would suggest dipping into a few at a time rather than listening straight through the program. The CD ends with Arnoldís most ambitious work for brass, the Symphony for Brass, which is also available on a Decca collection of the composerís music, as is the Brass Quintet No. 1óthe most popular of the works included here.

The Decca disc I cited above is a part of the British Music Collection series of reissues and contains the wonderful Guitar Concerto as well as the English Dances. However, the sound is variable because of the different periods of the individual recordings. The two brass pieces, performed by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (PJBE), were recorded in the 1970s (the Quintet in 1970 and the Symphony in 1979). Listening to those recordings side-by-side with these on Nimbus shows the advances made in digital recording. While the earlier Decca recordings still sound quite spectacular, they are much more upfront and do not provide as much ambience as the newer Nimbus ones. They also reflect the differences in the performances, with the PJBE a bit more exuberant, but less refined than the Fine Arts Brass. Especially telling in the Nimbus recording is the antiphonal dueling of the trumpets in the finale of the Quintet. Whereas on the Decca disc, both trumpets seem to be coming from one speaker, in the Nimbus they are clearly divided between left and right and result in a real dialogue. I don't want to make too much of the differences because both accounts of the two works are terrific and one should be more than happy with either one. If your primary interest is in Arnold's brass music, then the choice has to be the Nimbus. If, however, you want a good sampling of the genius of Malcolm Arnold, then the Decca disc will do nicely. I wouldn't want to be without either disc.

The Nimbus disc has good notes on the works and a center photo of the Fine Arts Brass and colleagues at the recording of the Symphony. There's also a fine photo of the composer with his trumpet on the booklet cover. For all brass aficionados and Malcolm Arnold fans.

Leslie Wright

For all brass aficionados and Malcolm Arnold fans.