Great performances of Arnold's music, and a fine selection
L. Johan Modée | Earth | 06/10/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Malcolm Arnold is a British composer mainly known for his lighter works and film music, for instance to David Lean's famous 1957 film "The Bridge on the River Kwai". On the serious side, there are nine symphonies comparable to Bax and Vaughan Williams. Here we have two cycles on record, Handley's (Decca) and Penny's (Naxos).
This edition features a minor selection of the lighter Arnold, his English Dances op. 27 & 33 in the classic performances with Boult. This is very easy and accessible music, with strong connections to British folk tunes. Frankly, it's perhaps not the kind of music that attracts repeated listening - at least not in my ears.
By contrast, the remaining works really do. These are less light and more or less or even far more serious.
The Guitar Concerto op. 67 is one of the finest of its kind, in my view much greater than anything we have from Rodrigo. It's both light and, given that delicate lightness, almost disturbingly serious. It was originally written for Julian Bream. There are two recordings of this work with Bream, the most significant the one with the composer himself conducting the Melos ensamble: Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Collection. The current recording is however the very best non-Arnold/Bream version of the guitar concerto, preferrable to the other Bream recording as well (Bream/Rattle on EMI): English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth with Eduardo Fernandez on guitar.
The next great Arnold work in this selection is the Brass Quintet, op. 73. This is superb and memorable music and the performance here, with Philip Jones Brass Ensamble, is outstanding. This is also the case with Arnold's Symphony for Brass Instruments, op. 123, also included in this collection with the same ensamble. These two works show Arnold from his best side, which include his jazz influences. It is excellent, moving, and impressive brass music, comparable to Gustav Holst's two suites (cf. Fennell's 2nd recording, Holst Suites 1 & 2 / Handel Music for the Royal Fireworks / Stars and Stripes (Stereo Hybrid SACD)).
Recommended for the Guitar concerto and - in particular - the two superb works for brass."