This recording is a box of delights for Malcolm Arnold fans, as it includes a world premiere recording of the late Cello Concerto, and various arrangements for orchestra of earlier chamber works, including the Concertino for Flute and Strings (from the Flute Sonatina) and the Saxophone Concerto (from the Piano Sonata). There is also a revised version of the Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet. All the necessary arranging and editing has been done by David Ellis. The final work on the programme is the better-known Symphony for Strings which appears as originally written. Here, then, we have a good mix that enables us to compare the earlier and later styles of Arnold's output.
The Cello Concerto was written in 1988 for Julian Lloyd Webber, and is in the usual three movements. In the first, a nimble theme first heard on the cello alternates with a more lyrical idea in which the solo instrument is invited to sing. The second movement is based on a dramatic four-note cell heard at the beginning. The mood is muted and mysterious. The finale is built around a little scurrying motif which is tossed around between cello and orchestra, and includes a brief cadenza before the assertive close.
The Concertino for Flute and Strings was written in 1948 for Arnold's flautist colleague at the RCM, Richard Adeney. The first movement consists of delicate flute figurations against sturdy repeated rhythms in the strings. The second is somewhat darker and more mysterious, with the flute weaving tentatively in and out of the orchestral textures. The brief finale takes up an easy-going melody which tends to stick in the mind long after it has ended.
The late Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet tests the soloist's technique to the limit. A dark, mysterious first movement is followed by a will-o-the-wisp second which seems a good deal quicker than the plain allegro marking. The third is slow and lyrical, with string pizzicatos, while the fourth is an elegant waltz, and the concluding vivace is in rondo form. The piece requires the soloist to use four different types of recorder at various times.
The transcription by David Ellis of Arnold's Piano Sonata (1942) as the Saxophone Concerto perhaps makes this as much Ellis's work as Arnold's; still, the characteristic Arnold hallmarks are there. The work begins in a fairly serious, restless vein, with some vigorous string-work and strong rhythms over which the saxophone sings loudly. The central andante is languid and nostalgic, while the brief finale is a march - or more accurately a parody of one - which terminates in a throw-away conclusion.
The first movement of the Symphony for Strings (1946) is restless and uneasy, full of nervous energy, Bartokian rhythms ,and sudden changes of tempo, with sombre undertones in the slower passages. The second movement has a more airy, lilting quality, with the lower strings adding a sinister touch here and there. The only extended relief from the dark, brooding edginess of the work, however, comes in the finale which is a lively dance with vigorous rhythms, sturdy pizzicatos, and a stong unison ending drawing stumps on one of Arnold's most impressive early efforts.