Arnold: Concertos / Sillito, Watkins, Fletcher, Collins, Etc

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Malcolm Arnold is the master of what might be described as the 'quarter-hour concerto'. Neo-classical in scale and aim, the genre demonstrates his brilliant ability...
Malcolm Arnold is the master of what might be described as the 'quarter-hour concerto'. Neo-classical in scale and aim, the genre demonstrates his brilliant ability to compress his style, and write for particular performers with jewelled concision, adopting neo-classical stylistic patterns—as in the Double Violin Concerto written in 1962 with Yehudi Menuhin and Alberto Lysy in mind—but also letting his lyrical gift blossom too in amiable, often catchy tunes.

These four works, all involving string orchestra alone, provide outstanding examples of the genre, and are beautifully performed with excellent soloists—two of them principals in the Philharmonia Orchestra, of which Mark Stephenson has also been a member—to provide the first recording by a talented new group, London Musici. Stephenson, a cellist in the Philharmonia, is the guiding spirit of London Musici, and on this showing both he as conductor and the London Musici strings richly deserve the confidence of Conifer, who have signed them up for a long-term series of recordings.

The work new to records is the Double Concerto and as Hugo Cole points out in his intensive study of Arnold's music, just published by Faber (Malcolm Arnold: An introduction to his music), the example of Bach's Double Violin Concerto has provided an obvious model in the way that the two soloists chase each other's tails in rapid figuration. Kenneth Sillito and Lyn Fletcher are most sweetly matched in writing which provides the severest demands on purity of intonation.

The other three concertos have all been recorded before, and I should like to take this opportunity to urge EMI to reissue their fine versions of all of them on CD. It would make an excellent reissue on the Studio label to have the four concertos (the Clarinet, Horn, Oboe and Trumpet) contained on Norman Del Mar's excellent LP with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta (EL270264-1, 8/85) supplemented by one or other of the EMI recordings of both the flute concertos (nla). It is rather disconcerting to find on the Conifer issue that no one in charge of labelling seems to be aware that this Clarinet Concerto and this Flute Concerto are each the first of two which Arnold has written. As to the performances on this new issue, they are a match for any competition, with Richard Watkins in the Second Horn Concerto, for example, every bit as brilliant as the late Alan Civil on the EMI issue. He may not be quite so extraordinarily wide in his tonal range, but he is weighter in the slow movement and even brisker in the finale.

Urgency marks out all the London Musici performances, with Michael Collins in the Clarinet Concerto No. 1, faster and more resilient than Janet Hilton was on EMI, and with Karen Jones in the Flute Concerto No. 1 very purposeful in the spiky writing for flute, which exceptionally avoids the low chalumeau register throughout the work.

Remarkable in all four works is the rich resonance of the London Musici string ensemble. You would expect that such a sound came from a band much larger, and no doubt it was a help to make the recording in the warm, helpful acoustic of The Maltings at Snape. I look forward to more London Musici recordings, promised by Conifer at the rate of three a year. The next, due this autumn, will be of Mendelssohn's string symphonies.'

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [8/1989]

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 15, 2008

  • UPC: 743211500425

  • Catalog Number: CON15004

  • Label: Conifer

  • Number of Discs: 1