WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: LSO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9335 DDD
The easy popularity of Arnold’s miniatures has tended to conceal the fact that behind the composer of the English Dances there lurks a very considerable symphonist.
The first of Arnold’s nine symphonies dates from 1949 and offers little consolation to those who seek the benign English pastoral tradition. It opens with bleak unison fanfares that rapidly plummet into a shadowy gloom. It is reminiscent of Mahler except that when the music breaks loose from the enveloping heavy spirits it does so starkly and without warmth. Relief comes near the end when a jaunty march appears in the high woodwind and leads the way to a grandiloquent coda. This could almost be one of those great British post-imperial statements but for the unresolved harmonies that fret above the surging melodic line.
The second symphony is gentler and easier. It is led by tunes, not ideas. It still makes demanding listening, not least because even the lighter moments have an ironical touch that challenges our immediate perceptions. These are both rigorous, hard performances that soften no edges. Likewise the recording is superbly clear and delivers a mighty punch. Christopher Lambton