LABELS: Hyperion Helios
WORKS: Chamber Music, Vols 1-3
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDH 55071, 55072, 55073 Reissue (1984)
The Nash’s superb 1984 set of Malcolm Arnold’s chamber music makes a welcome return. While not amounting to a complete survey – no string quartets, no brass music – these three discs present a rounded portrait of a composer whose practicality, gift for a good tune and entertainment value have tended to obscure both his tautness of construction and a vein of deeper, darker feeling.
Arnold’s serious side is most evident on Vol. 1, which contains music for strings, mostly with piano – including the fine 1956 Piano Trio, its drama given full value by the Nash team. Vol. 2 finds the Nash’s wind players equally at home in the series of modest Sonatinas with piano and in the virtuoso solo Fantasies written for a 1966 Birmingham competition. Vol. 3 is the most colourful, consisting of works for wind and for mixtures of wind and strings – including the evergreen Three Shanties for wind quintet, the mellifluous Quartet for oboe and strings, and the early but characteristic 1944 Quintet for flute, violin, viola, horn and bassoon.
The recordings are admirable; although the wide stereo spread of the quintets is disconcerting at first, it enhances the sense of being in the room with the musicians. The booklets reproduce the late Hugo Cole’s excellent notes, but without any biographical information: you would not know that these reissues arrive in good time for the celebrations of Arnold’s 80th birthday in October. Anthony Burton