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CD Review

Malcolm Arnold

Reference 48

Overtures

  • Beckus the Dandipratt
  • The Smoke
  • A Sussex Overture
  • The Fair Field
  • Commonwealth Christmas Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Malcolm Arnold
Reference Recordings RR-48
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When composers take on their own work the results always takes on a special significance, Toss in the fact that all but Beckus were premiere recordings at the time of this 1992 release, and everything becomes more important. Arnold never did get very much attention, either on these shores or his own, but a disc like this can only help the cause. Why, you might ask, would a reviewer write about an album released 1992? There are several reasons. Firstly, the good people at Reference were kind enough to include it with my review package; they have been very good to both me, and listeners everywhere. Secondly, it enhances and expands upon the works listed in the Classical Net archive. Third, it shows a composer's best work, with an orchestra he loved, in absolutely stunning sound for either then or now.

Arnold's overtures are delightful and substantial works that show a master craftsman doing what he loved to do. Arnold may not have been the best conductor, but neither were Stravinsky, and especially Copland. No, we listen for the insights a composer can provide on how his work should sound. Since many of these works had never been recorded in 1992, and certainly haven't gotten much airtime since, we can safely see these recordings as both authoritative and definitive. How many composers can say that? One has to wonder; if Arnold had been in better health in '92, would the results have been even better than they are here? Not that it matters much. The London Philharmonic sounds incredible, full of energy, nuance, and zest. Arnold had a long and mostly happy association with the orchestra, and the rapport shows clearly and convincingly.

Arnold's overtures really do play more like stand-alone orchestral works; in other words, fans of Beethoven and Mozart will find themselves surprised. They have much more in common with the works of Berlioz that carry the same name. The scores are effervescent and full of life. They are hardly lightweight, for they require virtuosity of the highest order. Nor are they easily tied to any other composer; certainly this sounds little like Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, or Walton. No, Arnold was a unique and entirely personal voice musically, something which may have hurt his popularity, but makes his work endearing and ultimately worth knowing. Listeners have been enthralled with this disc since the 90's, and there's no reason not to give it a try now. Simply excellent.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman

Trumpet