COMPOSERS: Arnold; Milhaud; Vaugh Williams
LABELS: Divine Art
ALBUM TITLE: Arnold; Milhaud; Vaughn Williams
WORKS: The Return of Odysseus
PERFORMER: City of Glasgow Chorus; Orchestra of Scottish Opera/Graham Taylor
CATALOGUE NO: 25035
Malcolm Arnold’s The Return of Odysseus was composed in 1976 for a concert of the Schools’ Music Association. Patric Dickinson’s specially written text tells the story, and the back story, in simple, breezy language, though it’s rather constrained by the absence of any solo parts. Arnold’s setting is concise and clearly organised, and offers young performers some catchily singable tunes, occasionally recalling Britten’s St Nicolas, and one wonderful if all too brief moment of aleatoric speech when Odysseus slays Penelope’s hapless suitors. But this premiere recording isn’t ideal: although it’s well paced, there are bits of untidy unison singing from the men and some wrong, or drastically rewritten, choral dynamics; and both chorus and orchestra sound underpowered in a cramped acoustic.
The couplings are an odd choice, especially when British publishers’ catalogues must be stuffed with cantatas for young performers worth reviving alongside the Arnold. Vaughan Williams’s early, visionary Whitman setting Toward the Unknown Region makes little impact, with the chorus soft-grained in tone and severely limited in dynamic range. And Milhaud’s Suite française, a brash wind-band piece reworked by the composer in equally bright orchestral colours, seems a bizarrely inappropriate interlude. All in all, one for dyed-in-the wool Arnold enthusiasts. Anthony Burton