Arnold: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Arnold
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: RPO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51257 2 DDD
Vernon Handley and the Royal Philharmonic here continue their cycle of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies with Nos 1 and 5. Few composers write more brilliantly and colourfully for the orchestra than Arnold, and these works, with their cogent musical development and wide expressive range, show him at the height of his powers.

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Arnold’s First Symphony (1949) opens as arrestingly as any, and the RPO’s horns, woodwind and timpani set a thrilling agenda. Handley’s control of line, and of the ebb and flow of symphonic tensions, is magnificent. The only drawback is that the recording does not always allow the subtle details of the scoring to be heard clearly.

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Symphony No. 5 (1961) lies closer to the tradition of ‘conflict symphonies’, and if Handley does not generate the momentum and sheer power that Hickox and the LSO (on Chandos) achieve, his grip on the music’s architecture is absolutely sure. The Mahlerian slow movement has great eloquence, so that the full-toned return, and subsequent disintegration, of this material at the close of the work provides both a genuinely symphonic culmination and a powerful emotional experience. Terry Barfoot