Arnold: Cello Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Arnold
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Arnold: Cello Concerto; Symphony for strings; Fantasy for recorder and string quartet; Arnold (orch. David Ellis): Saxophone Concerto; Concertino for flute and strings
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Esther Ingham (flute), John Turner (recorder), Carl Raven (alto saxophone); Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward; Manchester Sinfonia/Richard Howarth
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.572640

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Only one of these works appears to be entirely Malcolm Arnold’s own penmanship. The others have been expertly brought to the state recorded here by David Ellis – ‘performing editions’ of the Cello Concerto and Recorder Fantasy, while the Flute Concertino is Ellis’s orchestration of the Flute Sonatina, and the Saxophone Concerto an arrangement of Arnold’s early Piano Sonata of 1942. The Cello Concerto of 1998 is a vintage example of Arnold’s late manner – almost wilfully easy on the ear, yet somehow disturbed and haunting, and relentlessly laced with irony (Arnold was surely English music’s Shostakovich). The opening movement, chirpily chasing its own tail, is followed by a much darker slow one; then the finale tries and fails to bring both elements together in a kind of ‘unanswered question’. The idiom ought to be too thin, but somehow isn’t: instead it’s lean, clean, and uncannily precise.

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The other outstanding work is the Recorder Fantasy of 1990, its five movements and four sizes of recorder between them encompassing an ear-catching range of sounds (delivered here with superb panache by John Turner). Among the three other statements in Arnold’s earlier, denser manner, the Symphony for Strings remains one of his most impressive creations, restlessly and probingly inventive. All the performances are excellent, each of them palpably savouring the composer’s diamond-sharp craftsmanship; Raphael Wallfisch’s mellow-toned virtuosity excels even in this company. Malcolm Hayes