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ClassicsOnline Home » ARNOLD, M.: Cello Concerto / Symphony for Strings / Fantasy (Wallfisch, Turner, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Sinfonia, Ward, Howarth)
Sir Malcolm Arnold’s preference for classical forms is fully explored in this representative but uniquely distinctive programme. Orchestrations of earlier works form the lyrical Concertino for Flute and Strings and a Saxophone Concerto whose bold statements foreshadow the gritty and powerful Symphony for Strings. Arnold’s virtuoso Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet is a late work, and the Cello Concerto was the composer’s last in this form; a piece which speaks directly from the soul, appearing here in its première recording.
By Charlotte Gardner
By Rob Barnett
Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921–2006)
‘Music appeals to me chiefly because of its abstract quality,’ wrote Sir Malcolm Arnold in 1956. Consequently it is not surprising to find numerous examples of all the classical forms, symphonies, concertos, sonatas, sonatinas, and (a particular favourite of his) the fantasy, among his large output. This fascinating disc brings together an example of each (in one form or another) thus giving the listener a real insight into the manner in which Arnold brought his very distinctive voice to each of these forms and made them very much his own. The disc also brings together works from both ends of his compositional life, and interestingly, the quintessential Arnold style is abundantly clear in both. That style is not easy to express concisely—there are so many paradoxes to contend with: Arnold possessed a melodic invention second to none but also enjoyed a fascination for more severe, serial writing. He loved exploring long expressive melodies but also building structures using very short and terse melodic fragments. Though he self-proclaims his love of abstract music he often fills it with deep personal meaning. There are other contradictions too but the results are always unmistakable and his music, above all else, appeals directly and communicates compellingly with the listener.
Cello Concerto, Op. 136
Malcolm Arnold wrote eighteen concertos, many as presents for, or tributes to distinguished players and friends, Larry Adler, Julian Bream, John Lill and Yehudi Menuhin among them. His final concerto was written for and first performed by Julian Lloyd Webber in 1988. Two years earlier Arnold had written a brilliant unaccompanied Fantasy for cello and decided to follow that with a full scale Concerto. The current performing edition, recorded here, was prepared by David Ellis. Cast in the traditional three-movement design, the first movement begins with three short and pithy ideas: a simple descending figure, a dark rocking phrase and a more rhythmically complex jaunty motif. The rocking phrase soon transforms into the lyrical second subject and the movement unfolds as these three ideas are subjected to all sorts of repetitions and lively contrapuntal interplay. The second movement begins with a dramatic motif that could well have formed the theme for the film Lawrence of Arabia that Arnold famously turned down. This four-note cell forms the basis for much in this dark and mystical movement. Like so much of Arnold’s later music this movement speak directly from the soul. The lively final movement’s main subject is a close relation of the jaunty motif from the first movement. The music dances along in a quasi rondo-like structure. A broad and lyrical theme of almost Elgarian quality forms the basis for a number of the ‘episodes’. There is a short cadenza before the final coda brings the work to an exciting end with a fleeting reference to the opening of the first movement.
Concertino for Flute and Strings, Op. 19a
The Concertino for Flute and Strings is an orchestration (by David Ellis) of the charming Flute Sonatina written in 1948. Like all Arnold’s Sonatinas of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the music embodies both the personality of the instrument and its dedicatee, in this instance Arnold’s friend and fellow student, Richard Adeney (both studied at the Royal College of Music in the late 1930s). It is the lyrical and gentle side of both that Arnold portrays here, though there are occasional glimpses of Adeney’s more mischievous side. The urbane first movement is dominated by long and delicate melodic lines. The central movement is a sensitive and often ethereal passacaglia, a form much favoured by Arnold. The final movement does nothing more than continually re-state a simple but haunting popular-type melody over the most conventional of harmonies. Was Arnold’s developing powers of invention letting him down a little here? By no means. He knew exactly what he was doing—the solution is inevitable and the effect is enchanting.
Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet, Op. 140
Throughout his life Arnold enjoyed the self-imposed restrictions of writing in the various classical forms represented on this disc—and his genius is so often to be found in the originality and inventive way he handled them. However he also enjoyed the freedom (both in terms of structure and substance) that the ‘Fantasy’ permitted. He wrote no less than eighteen works in this form. Like the Cello Concerto, the Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet is another late work. Written in 1990, it was commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation for world renowned Michala Petri who gave the first performance in 1991 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. Arnold had already written her a brilliant Fantasy for unaccompanied recorder in 1986 and a Concerto in 1988. The version of the Fantasy recorded here is edited by David Ellis. This five-movement work explores the great range of sonorities and techniques required of the modern recorder player, including flutter-tonguing, very fast double-tonguing, very high notes and glissandi. It also requires four different sizes of recorder. The dark first movement (for treble recorder), is in A minor (the work’s home key) and explores simple arpeggiated figures. It ends most unexpectedly with a Tierce de Picardie. The second movement (for sopranino recorder) is a dazzling scherzo requiring considerable virtuosity from the soloist. The lyrical and thoughtful theme of the third movement (back in A minor and on the descant) is punctuated by powerful quadruple stopped string chords and like the first ends in the major. The fourth movement (tenor recorder) is a gentle waltz and the fifth, the longest movement (treble again), is in a simple rondo form demanding great finger dexterity from the soloist.
The Saxophone Concerto is an arrangement (by David Ellis) of the twenty-one year old composer’s Piano Sonata. Written the same year as the very popular Three Shanties the work shows the composer developing his very personal style both in his manipulation of structure and his melodic invention. The first movement begins with a presentation of three ideas—the opening theme undulates lyrically leading to an aggressive repeated-note figure that is explored at some length before a poetic third idea takes over. Some syncopated chords announce the arrival of a new and more enigmatic theme. The remainder of this restless movement develops these ideas in a variety of imaginative ways. There is no ‘formal’ recapitulation. For a young composer, both structurally and melodically, the movement is a bold statement. The Andante with its gentle, blues-tinged love theme has a nostalgic feel about it. The music seems to reach a point of indecision when suddenly a ghoulish military style march interrupts and sweeps the music forward. Arnold disliked war and a number of works written around this period clearly articulate these feelings. The final movements of the Wind Quintet, Op. 2, (1942) and the First Symphony (1949) include unmistakable anti-war sentiments. There are also passages that foreshadow the resolute Symphony for Strings and perhaps even a homage to Kurt Weill who also detested war.
Symphony for Strings, Op. 13
There are no less than twelve Arnold works that bear the title Symphony. The first of these, the Symphony for Strings, (commissioned by the Riddick String Orchestra, in which Sheila Nicholson, Arnold’s first wife, was a leading member) is a gritty and powerful work. Like the stylistically similar Concerto for Two Violins (1962) it rarely departs from its serious and uncompromising language making use (regularly) of elaborate transformations of short melodic motifs and (occasionally) serial writing. The first movement is tightly argued juxtaposing passages of Bartokian rhythmic vigor with melting lyricism. The central movement again demonstrates a structural clarity and a typically resourceful use of materials: a simple scalic motif virtually provides Arnold with all he needs to weave a beautiful and engaging movement. The finale is a high-spirited dance balanced with perfectly timed moments of respite that, like the Saxophone Concerto/Piano Sonata looks forward to the First Symphony.
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