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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irreconcilably Good, 19 Jun. 2011
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Nobody "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Arnold - Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
I'm currently working my way through Malcolm Arnold's symphonies: many of which were unfamiliar to me. His great success as a film composer, thanks to his natural communicativeness, fluency and skill for orchestration if anything has hindered his reputation as a serious composer. Add to that, a relatively conservative musical language at a time when the avant garde were the only ones being taken seriously in Britain and you begin to see why such a major composer was being ignored.

I was familiar with the first and ninth symphonies. Neither are lightweight. Symphonies Three and Four belong to the earlier - middle period when his musical vocabulary was expanding. His knoweledge of cinema and a natural talent for theatre play a much bigger role than in the First and Ninth.

Number three, in three movements, is a very tightly argued symphony with an impressive central slow movement. My only concern is that the lighter finale cannot match the central movement's intensity. The theatrical flourish towards the end has a hint of "Star Wars" about it that isn't quite in keeping with the rest but overall, it is still an impressive symphony. Its language has more than a hint of Mahler about it. As both Britten and Shostakovich were admirers of Mahler too it is not surprising to hear a similar voice in Arnold's work.

Where Arnold really comes into his own is in the Fourth Symphony. The symphony was, according to Arnold, inspired (if that's the right word) by his horror at the intolerance towards afro carribean immigrants that sparked the Brixton race riots. He made the point that this just affected some of the themes in the opening movement and the rest was worked out more formally. In reality, building an unreconciable conflict into the fabric of the work was very daring and the full force of this is really felt in the finale.

The opening movement contrasts a sweet lyrical theme, exotic (Supposedly - afro inspired) percussion and a more aggressive theme. The movement contrasts these without really exploding but the conflict informs the following nervous scherzo and slow movement. The finale begins in restless but buoyant form that becomes increasingly agitated before a huge, crude and ugly marching theme takes over (very Mahlerian). This seems to symbolise the white racists and has more than a hint of angry Orange Order mob about it. Arnold the film composer here has certainly enriched Arnold the symphonist.

The music ends on a lively and positive note but with no attempt to reconcile the differences. This is more a case of battling through than enemies defeated. It is quite something to make such a programme work in symphonic form and use such a diverse range of thematic material. It was slated after its premiere: clearly, the critics either didn't or didn't want to understand it.

I can't compare to other performances that I've yet to hear but this sounds impressive. Naxos have provided excellent sound engineering and the RTE ORchestra brass and woodwind are in fine form - often the parts of the orchestra that Arnold specialises in. Andrew Penny's interpretation sounds very convincing to me. His Fourth Symphony lasts about 38 minutes: Malcolm Arnold took 52 minutes in his recording! To me that hardly sounds like a definitive version but a very intriguing different take on the symphony. Arnold's recordings of his symphonies tend to be much slower than the competition.

I'm told that the Fifth Symphony is Arnold's greatest. Whtether true or not I'm looking forward to hearing the Naxos recording of that and the Sixth too. What I've heard so far sounds like a very impressive series whether you consider it definitive or not. Either way, you can be reassured that Malcolm Arnold was one of Britain's finest symphonists and these recordings will certainly not sell you short. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars but I think I will be glad that I got into, 12 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Arnold - Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
Arnold's music is Agood recordingnew to me , but I think I will be glad that I got into it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 22 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Arnold - Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
Wonderful
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Arnold - Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
Arnold - Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 by Malcolm Arnold (Audio CD - 1998)
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