Symphony No.9 in E flat, Op.70
Symphony No.8, Op.124
Miguel Tantos (trombone)
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 3 July, 2010
Venue: St John's, Waterloo, London
Malcolm Arnold met Dmitri Shostakovich a number of times in their respective roles as representing their national composer organisations. After the last such meeting, in Prague in 1966, Arnold returned home and began work on his Sixth Symphony, without a commission! The Russian made a lasting impression on the British composer. There are similarities in the make-ups of both composers. While Arnold often appeared genial he masked his depressive side through conviviality, at least in public; conversely, Shostakovich, as photographed, hardly ever appeared to look happy but seems to have enjoyed a private sense of irony to help cope with the oppressive political situation.
Both symphonies at this concert were successfully performed. Everything in the Shostakovich was alert, alive and vibrant. The shadows inherent in the score were sensitively projected. Indeed the Mussorgskian elements (there are more in this symphony than any other by Shostakovich) were accentuated by Taylor, making for a more-than-usual human-document rather than suggesting the work as flippant and lightweight.
In between the symphonies came a concerto for trombone (1924) by the Danish composer/conductor, Launy Grøndahl (1886-1960), best known today for his outstanding pioneering recordings of Carl Nielsen’s symphonies. The concerto breathes the open-air we hear in Nielsen’s early works; it has memorable themes, plenty of incidents and a very appealing personality. The soloist, Spanish-born Miguel Tantos, was secure in technique and alive to the many opportunities for projecting the felicities of this work.
The explosive opening of Malcolm Arnold’s Eighth Symphony immediately proclaims crisis before, somewhat disconcertingly, an Irish-based tune enters in subdued harmonies. This duality of expression permeates the entire work and makes for uncomfortable listening. Fearing for someone’s sanity is, after all, a powerful emotion. This symphony is about life’s travails, the forces of darkness bearing down on an uncertain future. It requires a strong stomach, but so does Arnold’s exemplar, Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony. At least one person walked out of this performance, which adds a certain ‘street cred’ to Arnold’s reputation in superficial minds! Matthew Taylor conducted a fervent performance and inspired some outstanding playing from Sinfonia Tamesa, which in this reverberant acoustic could not have been easy.