COMPOSERS: Arnold • field
LABELS: Dutton Epoch
WORKS: Arnold: Philharmonic Concerto; Fantasy on a theme of John Field; Symphony No. 7; Field: Nocturne No. 7
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7318
These three works by Malcolm Arnold all date from the mid-1970s, when, as Piers Burton-Page says in his informative note, the composer was plagued by mental illness. Symphony No. 7 is certainly disturbed, and disturbing. Its first movement sets off in a bout of hysteria and exposes raw nerves all the way through; its slow movement erupts at one point into a nightmarish crescendo; and its finale tries but fails to find refuge in Irish dance tunes. Though the Seventh has prompted comparisons with Mahler and Shostakovich, no work that I know of by either composer gives such a vivid sense of a desperate struggle for sanity. The mood swings are enhanced by Martin Yates’s fast tempos (about seven minutes faster than Andrew Penny’s Naxos performance), to which the RSNO responds with collective and individual brilliance.
This orchestral virtuosity also lights up the Philharmonic Concerto, a display piece which veers between Walton-like swagger, good singing tunes and interjections of crude banality. The Fantasy on a theme of John Field, in which Peter Donohoe is the excellent soloist, subjects one of Field’s pre-Chopin piano Nocturnes to a barrage of competing ideas and disruptive treatment, including a climactic transformation of its melody into a parody of Rachmaninov. Field’s original, obsessive Nocturne throws illuminating light on the Fantasy.