Arnold: Symphony No. 2; Carnival of Animals; Concerto for Two Pianos; A Grand, Grand Overture

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Arnold
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Carnival of Animals; Concerto for Two Pianos; A Grand, Grand Overture
PERFORMER: Nettle-Markham piano duoRPO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 240 DDD
There are some interesting links between these composers, who have all shown a commitment to the mainstream symphonic tradition. Neither Havergal Brian nor Harold Truscott composed with the expectation of performance; Brian, for instance, was 78 before one of his 32 symphonies was played, and Truscott’s No. 2 was premiered when this recording was made in 1993, the year after his death. Over the years both Truscott and Simpson worked successfully as musicologists, but more recently Simpson has become known as a composer first and foremost.

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Malcolm Arnold has been a central figure in British musical life for fifty years, believing that ‘to be asked by a performer whose accomplishment one admires is the greatest incentive to write music’. His Symphony No. 2, for Charles Groves and his Bournemouth Orchestra, and Concerto for Two Pianos, for Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith, both reflect this, and in Handley’s performances they are certainly colourful, though Groves’s own recording of the Symphony has a special panache.

No British composer of our time has made a more substantial contribution to the symphonic repertoire than Robert Simpson, and the excellent Handley Hyperion series is bringing a reassessment of his achievement. His Third and Fifth Symphonies emerge strongly here; both are typically cogent, developing considerable symphonic weight. The Fifth is a magnificent piece, with a really exciting finale.

These Havergal Brian works were composed before the First World War, and are not otherwise available. Very much of its time, the music is worth hearing, but the youth orchestra cannot produce a consistently pleasing tone and the discs are carelessly cued.

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All the Truscott pieces sound well, though in a generalised rather than individual way. The best is the Elegy, which moves slowly and euphoniously through its 13-minute span, rather in the manner of Górecki’s celebrated Third Symphony. Terry Barfoot