Arnold: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2

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WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Andrew Penny
The first two of Malcolm Arnold’s nine symphonies make a contrasted pair. No. 1 was written in 1949 and conveys something of the turmoil of its decade of composition, though it does tend to become a little becalmed in the middle of the first movement. No. 2 (1953) is airier and has quite a distinctive Sibelian edge in its thematic material and textural world.


This first disc in Naxos’s complete Arnold symphony cycle (to be joined imminently by the premiere recording of Symphony No. 9 – see last month’s Recording Report), comes up against the direct competition of the same coupling from Richard Hickox on Chandos, which Christopher Lambton enjoyed last June.


The new issue comes with the imprimatur of the composer himself and Penny draws committed performances from his Irish players, though they are not immune from an occasional lack of polish. Similarly, the sound cannot match Chandos’s best and distorts at one point; yet it is still wide-ranging and incisive. For someone who has until now been an agnostic where Arnold’s brand of tonal conservatism is concerned, this bargain disc has gone some way to persuade me of the riches of his symphonic voice. Matthew Rye