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AUDITIONING SIR MALCOLM ARNOLD

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The Essential Malcom ArnoldDancesChamber MusicConcertos
Arnold for BandSymphony No. 4Symphony No. 5 and No. 9 



If you haven't yet discovered any of the large repertory of this versatile living composer, read on. The music of this British composer is made to order for the audiophile ear. It is super-melodious and has an immediate appeal to the average listener, yet avoids corny or obvious attempts at "light music." Donald Mitchell observed that Arnold "pours out tunes as if he were unaware that much music in our century has had to get along without them." Aside from some of the symphonies, his works have a downright happy quality that you don't get in much new music. It also generally sports propulsive rhythms and brilliant orchestrations, with a very wide dynamic range on the better recordings. Arnold's work as a trumpet player and conductor of pop concerts, plus his film music composing efforts (Bridge on the River Kwai, Breaking the Sound Barrier, The Belles of St. Trinians, Captain Horatio Hornblower, among others) equip him well to please the ears with catchy melody and modern, sometimes acrid harmonies. Two peaks of his youthful musical life were his first hearings of Louis Armstrong and Gustav Mahler - you've got to love the musical mix that came out of that combination! Some of the best Arnold recordings are those he conducted himself. Here's to the 80-year old master musician! Following are just a few of our favorites from the sizeable Arnold CD discography:


The Essential Malcom Arnold
THE ESSENTIAL MALCOM ARNOLD - 13 Selections featuring various soloists, the Royal Philharmonic, London Musici, Sir Malcolm Arnold/Vernon Handley/Mark Stephenson conducting - Conifer Classics 51263 2:

If you're unfamiliar with Arnold - aside from the Colonel Bogey March (hard to miss that) - this CD is the perfect place to start. You can get an idea of which section of his prolific opera you would like to explore first with complete CDs. This Arnold Sampler of 13 selections starts with a bang on his Grand, Grand Overture. That was written especially for the Hoffnung Festival concerts and includes in its unique orchestration three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher. Several of Arnold's tuneful concertos are sampled: those for flute, viola, horn, clarinet, two violins and 2 pianos 3 hands. Arnold's flirtation with jazz is illustrated by the movement from his clarinet concerto titled The Pre Goodman Rag. Entire movements from his Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8 are included, and the program ends with his hilarious portrayal of Bats from his Carnival of the Animals.

- John Sunier


ARNOLD OVERTURES - A Sussex Overture; Beckus the Dandipratt; The Smoke, The Fair Field, Commonwealth Christmas - London Philharmonic/Arnold - Reference Recordings RR-48CD:

Beckus, a comedy overture, is the only work here not receiving its first recording. It's a scherzo of completely unpredictable musical turns. Smoke is a Cockney term for any large city and especially London. Arnold's use of jazz elements are heard in this raucous work. The others are equally interesting and Reference Records' first rate audiophile approach brings the maximum thrill to Arnold's striking musical structures. A wonderful CD from start to finish.

- John Sunier


Dances
ARNOLD: English, Irish, Scottish, Cornish Dances; Solitaire - London Philharmonic/Arnold - Lyrita SRCD201:

ARNOLD: English, Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh Dances - Queensland Symphony/Andrew Penny - Naxos 8.553526:

After his over 80 motion picture scores I would say Arnold's various folk dance suites were his most accessible music, and either of these discs is the way to access it. Most of them are exuberant both rhythmically and melodically, with interesting harmonies adding sonic seasoning throughout. The composer's versions are probably definitive and the sound - as on most Lyritas - is superb. But the Naxos is plenty lively too, in good sonics and a better price, so take your choice.

- John Sunier


Chamber Music
THE CHAMBER MUSIC OF MALCOLM ARNOLD I - Violin Sonatas 1 & 2, Viola Sonata, Piano Trio, Five Pieces for Violin 7 Piano, Duo for Two Cellos - The Nash Ensemble - Helios CDH55071:

THE CHAMBER MUSIC OF MALCOLM ARNOLD II - Trio for flute, viola, bassoon; Fantasies for bassoon, clarinet, flute, horn, oboe; Sonatinas for clarinet, flute, oboe, recorder - The Nash Ensemble - Helios CDH55072:

This part of CDs brings us a somewhat different side of Arnold. A wider variety of moods is found in these chambers works and sometimes a more dissonant style, but still nothing to assail the serial-phobe. Some of the pieces have a wry, tongue-in-cheek mein about them while others deal with more serious themes. Sometimes in the duos the two instruments seem to be holding more of an argument than a dialog but usually by the end of the work they come into musical agreement. I found the second violin sonata and the Trio for flute, viola & bassoon especially appealing. Helios is the sublabel of Hyperion and recording quality is superb as with most releases from those quarters.

- John Sunier


Concertos
ARNOLD: Concerto for 28 Players; Variations on a Theme of Ruth Gipps; Little Suites 1 & 2; A Manx Suite - City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox - Chandos CHAN 9509:

ARNOLD: Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Concertos for Horn and Orchestra Nos. 1 & 2; Concerto for Piano Duet and Strings - Collins/Watkins/Jones/Nettle & Markham/London Musici/Mark Stephenson - Conifer Classics 75605-51228-2:

Most of the works in the Chandos CD are collections of very short movements, generally lighter and most tuneful in nature. The Concerto for 28 Players is an exception. In this three-movement work Arnold continues with his humor and virtuosity, but in common with several of his later works it uses a free serial technique. Late Stravinsky is suggested as a model, but you'll probably find Arnold a good deal more accessible than Stravinsky's serial works. The three suites employ folk tunes (the Manx Suite is really No. 3 but created for performance by young amateurs).

Arnold has written concertos for many different instruments, and the second CD offers four of them, all giving the solo performers ingratiating works to play which will both challenge and entertain audiences. Benny Goodman was the recipient of the Clarinet Concerto, so the spirit of jazz is not far from this work. The Horn Concerto is a major work, with a lovely ten-minute-long Andante center movement. Its finale uses a 6/8 rhythm heard in hunting horn music and some of Mozart's horn concertos. The unusual idea of a piano concerto for four hands at a single keyboard is realized in the last concerto. Reducing the orchestra to string only puts more spotlight on the keyboard sounds. Jazz again is an element here, in the final variation.

- John Sunier


Arnold for Band
ARNOLD FOR BAND - Four Scottish Dances, Overseas, Little Suites 1 & 2, Tam O'Shanter, Water Music, The Padstow Lifeboat, Fanfare for Louis, English Dances Book I, The Duke of Cambridge - Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin - Reference Recordings RR-66CD:

The Dances and Little Suites here are not duplications of CDs listed above because these are versions for concert band. They work so well one would think them originally composed for band. Much of Arnold's output emphasizes wind instruments anyway, so this is a good match. All of these selections are world premiere recordings. Overseas and The Duke of Cambridge are both marches for military band. The Dallas Winds are just as skilled as Frederick Fennell's famous ensemble and the recorded quality is first rate, especially when properly HDCD decoded.

- John Sunier


ARNOLD: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 - London Symphony/Richard Hickox - Chandos CHAN 9335:

Arnold gets more serious in his symphonies. Mervyn Cooke compares his use of popular musical idioms to Mahler's in his symphonies. They both make parodies out of these superficially jolly tunes to make darker points about the human condition. But some only see it as Arnold's fixation on creating "light" music. (I don't think they ever apply that criticism to Mahler.) The First Symphony shows the influence of Sibelius, and its final movement is a complex but buoyant contrapuntal exercise. The Second Symphony opens with a sonata form movement reminiscent of Mahler, and its finale recalls the bright moods of the composer's English Dances.

- John Sunier


Symphony No. 4
ARNOLD: Symphony No. 4 - London Philharmonic/Arnold - Lyrita SRCD.200:

This symphony illustrates even better the point made above about Arnold's use of lighter music in his more serious works. He goes beyond Mahler, introducing some pop tunes without a hint of parody. His orchestration for the first movement includes bongos, marimbas and deep tom-toms, which gather together as a Caribbean percussion section. He challenges the view that serious and popular music should be segregated from one another. The long Andantino movement spins out endless melodies, and when the fourth movement seems to be winding up to a summing-up point it is rudely interrupted by a parody of a military marching band. The l990 recording under the composer's direction brings out all the unexpectedly details in this fun/serious symphony.

- John Sunier


Symphony No. 5 and No. 9
ARNOLD: Symphony No. 5, Divertimento No. 2, Symphonic Study "Machines," Saraband and Polka, The Belles of St. Trianians Comedy Suite - Munich Sym. Orch./Douglas Bostock - Classico CD 294:

These are all earlier works of the composer, with a generally lighter mood than his later works, except for the serious Fifth Symphony, which is quite a contrast with its immediate predecessor. One writer compared most of the other Arnold symphonies to Shostakovich in their often tortured emotionality. In this particular case the symphony is dedicated to the memories of four friends who died young - one of them is horn player Dennis Brain and another humorist Gerard Hoffnung. The part for celeste in this symphony is one of the largest in the repertory. Machines came from the music for a short film on the British steel industry; it is felt Arnold was looking back to Mossolov's Iron Foundry in this noisy essay for brass, percussion and strings. The St. Trianians suite is from music for the hilarious l954 comedy starring Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell. The German forces do Arnold jolly well, it must be said.

- John Sunier


ARNOLD: Symphony No. 9; Concertino for Oboe & Strings; Fantasy for Oboe - Nicolas Daniel, oboe/Bournemouth Symphony Orch./Vernon Handley - Conifer Classics 75605 51273 2:

Arnold required some courage in answering a commission for a ninth symphony due to the fatalistic overtones of that number for many great composers of the past. Though he has lived now 15 years beyond the premiere of his Ninth, the work lives in the tragic shadows of both Mahler and Shostakovich and after writing it Arnold retired from further composition. The work is marked by a great deal of repetition and unison writing in the orchestration. While the early movements have some of the old Arnold scherzo-like fun, the finale is a huge Adagio not unlike that of Mahler's Ninth. The l996 recording is one of Conifer's best.

- John Sunier


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