ARNOLD: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Andrew Penny/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553739)
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Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921): Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4
Born, like Alwyn and Rubbra, inNorthampton, Malcolm Arnold studied at the Royal College of Music, London. Herehis teachers included the "wonderful" Ernest Hall, principal trumpetof Sir Adrian Boult's BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Gordon Jacob, an"inspiring" non-academic traditionalist from whom, he claims, helearnt not only all he knew but also how "to talk about my music withoutembarrassment."
Apart from a spell of voluntary militaryservice from autumn 1944 to early 1945, Arnold's youth was spent as aprofessional orchestral player, mainly with the London Philharmonic (secondtrumpet 1942, principal trumpet 1943-44, 1946-48), but also for a briefpost-war period with the BBC Symphony, second trumpet to his teacher, oncontract from 23rd September 1945 to 16th January 1946. Comparatively glossedover by his biographer, Piers Burton-Page (Philharmonic Concerto, 1994),Arnold's time as a player in his mid-twenties on either side of the 1945 dividecoincided with several of the greatest conducting legends of the century. Heplayed Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony under Fistoulari and Bernstein, andrecorded it with Celibidache. He appeared in Furtwangler's ten historic Britishcome-back concerts, in February and March 1948, including a complete Brahmscycle, a Beethoven Choral Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall, and arecording of the Second Symphony of Brahms. He recorded Beethoven's Ero?»caSymphony under de Sabata. He played not only for his friends Basil Cameronand Constant Lambert, but also under Erich Kleiber, Clemens Krauss, BrunoWalter, Richard Tauber (a Beethoven Pastoral Symphony in January 1944),Galliera, Martinon, Enescu, Coates, Beecham and Boult. He accompanied Casals inthe Dvořak Cello Concerto and Menuhin in the London premi?¿re ofBartok's Second Violin Concerto (BBC), as well as Heifetz in the Britishpremiere of Walton's Violin Concerto. He took part in the firstperformance of Tippett's A Child of Our Time, conducted by Walter Goehr,
of 19th March 1944, and under the Dutch conductor Eduard van Beinum, heboth got to know the Mahler Wunderhorn symphonies, and lead the trumpetsin the first "demonstration standard" recording of his own precociousBeckus the Dandipratt Overture. Much as William Schuman had used theBroadway musical, so he used the first trumpet desk to learn about the moderninteractive orchestra in all its periods and styles, simplicity and virtuosityto "intensely dislike" Wagner and "detest" playing Elgarsymphonies but not the Enigma Variations, "his masterpiece",and to acquire the skills of conducting. "if you don't pick up a fewthings from being principal trumpet of a great symphony orchestra, you're nouse". His memories today are of having played in "a very good performancein Brighton of Beethoven's Ninth conducted by Carl Schuricht" (thenin his late sixties); of a very "nervous" Furtwangler who "usedto take his injections in the artist's room" and "was never rude tothe orchestra"; of the bicycling van Beinum; of conducting Brahms's ThirdSymphony and Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet together with the originalversion of the Symphonie Fantastique. His regret is never to havedirected a complete Beethoven symphony cycle "the one thing I alwayswanted to do."
Confirming his belief that one should"always think in terms of sound ...not only of notes on paper," thegreatest musical influence of his life, Arnold claimed in an article for Music& Musicians in July 1956, "has been, and still is, themusic of Berlioz." Interviewed by Murray Schafer (1963), he re-nailed hiscolours to the mast as a diatonic, tonal romantic, criticizing theincomprensibility of modern "insulated" composers with their concernfor truth above beauty, adding the influences of Sibelius, formally the tritonicFourth Symphony in particular, and his friend Walton"outwardly". Having stopped composing in 1990, after a lifetime ofthe most extraordinary application and variety ("I gave up... I have nourge to write... I've done enough"), Sibelius still inspires: herecollects Basil Cameron showing him the sketches of the rumoured EighthSymphony before, "I suppose, they were just thrown away as rubbish -If I'd had any sense I should have copied them out." As a symphonist hebelieves himself Germanically rooted. "I don't see the symphony likeMahler, who said the whole world should be in it. A symphony should beclassical in form, like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms." He claims never tohave been influenced by anyone. Yet equally confesses that "everythinginfluences every composer who has ever lived" - events, writers, poets,artists: "all of them influenced me, oh yes." He is justifiably proudof the fact that, like Gordon Jacob, he was always a musician of rapidfacility, who never outstayed his welcome and knew when to stop. ("It wasAlan Rawsthorne who said Malcolm Arnold writes music quicker than it takes theink to dry.") Just how quick, inventive and professionally accommodatinghe was, a man of alert ear and "quicksilver imagination" without needfor keyboard ("if you compose at the piano you'll compose things likeLiszt"), can be gathered from the fifteen film scores, sketches for anopera Henri Christophe (about the first black ruler of Haiti), FirstSymphony and First Quartet completed during the year after leavingthe London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Positively charged hyper-energy similarlyresourced the ten pressurising days it took to write the Oscar-winning scorefor David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) - "the worstjob I ever had in my life." To see Arnold more as ephemeral journalistthan enduring philosopher has always been a temptation: he remains one of themost critically crucified composers of the past fifty years. Yet, as his outputshows, from nine symphonies (1949-86) to close on 120 feature and documentaryfilm scores (1947-69), there is a darker, deeper, more intricately complexdimension to the man, counterpointing the jolly and the uproarious: behind thelaughter lurks a disquietened, lonely spirit. Celebrant of "innocent lyricism"and emotional cliche, resistant to compromise, an entertainer responsive to thepredicaments, joys and stresses of the human condition, he has beeninterestingly compared with Dickens, by Donald Mitchell, and with Betjernan byAdrian Williams.
The Third Symphony (1954-57),commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society "to take theplace of one Sir William Walton couldn't finish," was first performed inthe Royal Festival Hall, London, by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestraunder John Pritchard on 2nd December 1957. In three movements, the score callsfor piccolo, double woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones,tuba, timpani and strings. According to the composer's own original programmenote, "the first movement has two main subjects, the first of which isplayed by the violins, violas, flutes and bassoon at the very outset of thepiece. Later on the second subject is first stated by the oboe accompanied byviolins. Towards the end of the movement the tempo abruptly changes [from Allegroto Vivace] and the same material is developed as a scherzo.
The [passacaglia] second movement, elegiac in character, is aset of [twenty] variations based on a series