British Music Collection – Sir Malcolm Arnold

0 of 5 stars

Guitar Concerto, Op.67
Eduardo Fernandez (guitar)
English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth (recorded 1990)

English Dances – Set 1, Op.27 and Set 2, Op.33
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult (recorded 1954)

Symphony for Brass Instruments, Op.123
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble conducted by Howard Snell (recorded 1979)

Quintet for Brass (No.1), Op.73
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble conducted by Elgar Howarth (recorded 1970)

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: October 2001
CD No: DECCA 468 803-2

Whilst the Proms and the major London orchestras have seen fit to ignore Sir Malcolm Arnold’s 80th birthday, it is refreshing to note that record companies and regional orchestras (both amateur and professional) continue to salute the grand old man of British music. Arnold symphonies and concertos had performances at the beginning of this season in places asfar apart as Liverpool, Bergen, Northampton, Bel Air (USA) and University of North Carolina. In London there was not even a suggestion of an English Dance or a piece of film music!

This welcome disc of re-issues is a reminder of Arnold’s skill in a wide variety of music, from the ever-green tunefulness of the English Dances to the sombre and deeply serious Symphony for Brass, each bearing the imprint of his unique personality. Somewhere in between these two works comes the totally un-Spanish Guitar Concerto of 1959. Originally written for Arnold’s friend, Julian Bream, the Concerto is played on this disc with admirable dexterity by Eduardo Fernandez. Invoking the spirit of the great jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, the concerto is lightly scored, good humoured and certainly deserves the same popularity as the over-played Rodrigo Concerto. The second subject of the first movement is worth the price of the CD by itself; one of Arnold’s most characteristic tunes.

Both the brass pieces were written for the late Philip Jones and his ensemble, which changed the face of music for brass in the 1960s and 70s. The Quintet of 1961 (strictly speaking, this should be ’No.1’ as Arnold wrote a companion piece towards the end of his compositional career) is direct, extrovert and full of energy – notes quite literally fall over each other. The Symphony, described by the composer as being “fiendishly difficult,” came as a result of Arnold hearing Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – the result is an astonishingly powerful display of compositional and, in this recording, performing virtuosity. The Ensemble respond to the huge demands made on them conjuring a wide range of colour, moods and textures – the final double fugue is staggeringly composed and played. Anyone who considers Arnold to be a lightweight composer should try this!

The two sets of English Dances have become some of Arnold’s most popular music. In his booklet note, Kenneth Chalmers likens them to Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, which is as a good a description as any and certainly doesn’t belittle either composer. They remain fresh and effective. All that needs to be said about Sir Adrian Boult’s recording is that it is a classic that everyone should have. A marvellous CD.

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