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A Perfect Introduction to Arnold's Music,
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This review is from: Arnold - Orchestral Dances (Audio CD)
There will be some who will point to the fact that Malcolm Arnold recorded the Orchestral Dances himself and will argue that these are definitive. Certainly his version captures the spirit even better than here but there is the small matter of this Naxos version recording the full set, including the later Welsh Dances.
Arnold was a gifted orchestrator and melodist. His background as a trumpeter certainly helps in these folk style dances and there are brass band versions well worth hearing too.
For those that feel intimidated by the tougher Arnold works, like the symphonies, these Dances are a great starting place. True, there is less dissonance but the melodic invention and orchestral mastery are the same. The symphonies show the composer's complex personality whilst the Dances, like his mass of great film music show his gift for writing music to order in such an uninhibited manner with a sense of theatre and humour.
The English and Scottish sets are the most extravert and approachable but there is much to enjoy in all. The later sets display more nocturnal colours in places and there are some psycholgically darker corners in them, though I find the contrast between the robust opening Cornish dance and its sensuous, sultry and darker second a little disconcerting.
The later Irish Dances are all together more introverted and barely constitute dance at all - indeed they seem shorn of most of their national identity too. The Welsh Dances continue the theme of introversion too. These two sets belong to times of particularly acute mental illness for the composer and htis may have been a factor. Even so there is enough in the English, Scottish and Cornish Dances to entertain those who want simpler and more extrovert pieces.
One of Arnold's great skills as an orchestrator was to write music that could be played by most half decent orchestras without ruining the music's spirit. The Queensland Orchestra may not be so well known but they perform perfectly well under Andrew Penny, whose cycle of complete Arnold orchestral symphonies for Naxos with the RTE Symphony Orchestra showed a close affinity to the composer's work, under Malcolm Arnold's supervision. The Dances may not reach those heights but they remain a highly enjoyable version of the complete set. You can purchase this recording without fear of being sold short: highly recommended.