ARNOLD:  Symphony No. 5, Op. 74.  Divertimento No. 2, Op. 75.  Symphonic Study Machines.  Sarabande and Polka from Solitaire.  Suite from The Belles of St. Trinians.
Munich Symphony Orch/Douglas Bostock, cond.


Here's an essential disk for admirers of Sir Malcolm Arnold—it contains premiere recordings of two works:  Divertimento No. 2, Op. 75 and Machines. Notes state that a suite from the movie The Belles of St. Trinians is a premiere recording but it is not—it's available on a Chandos CD of film music of Arnold with Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic (9851).

All of this music is typically Arnoldian, the Divertimento highlighted by a mysterious rather ominous Nocturne, surrounded by a brilliant Fanfare and Chaconne.  Machines, written in 1948 (revised in 1951), is for a documentary about the British steel industry, with the expected brassy outbursts and repetitive rhythms. Christopher Palmer arranged a "comedy suite," from the 35 cues written for the 1954 film The Belles of St. Trinians (which starred Alistair Sim as both the headmistress and her brother). Scored for a rather small orchestra with a prominent part for the solo piano, it is Arnold at his most ebullient, a total delight.

Symphony No. 5, which is the composer's favorite of his nine, receives a strong performance on this CD, perhaps not quite at the level of the brilliant Chandos recording with Richard Hickox, but admirable in every way. The CD also contains the Sarabande and Polka Arnold composed to go with his English Dances to form the 1956 ballet Solitaire. Sarabande is truncated (3:53 compared to the composer's own recording, which is 5:39), and the dazzling Polka moves at a fast clip, almost a minute faster than the composer's 2:46.  For some odd reason, the important bass drum accents are missing, a problem with the Bryden Thomson Chandos recording as well. The bass drum is in the score and, of course, in the composer's own recording. When I had an opportunity to spend some time with Sir Malcolm I asked him about this and he said he didn't understand why some recordings leave out the bass drum; as he said, "It's in the score." I must admit that hearing the Polka played at this speed is quite exhilarating:  it would have been even more so had the bass drum been included!

Sound quality is superb and, as mentioned before, this CD is essential for those who admire music of Sir Malcolm Arnold who celebrated his 80th birthday in October 2001.

R.E.B.(Jan. 2002)