ARNOLD Orchestral Dances – Penny
This new Naxos set of the Arnold Dances from the Queensland orchestra under Andrew Penny is well worth its modest cost and it has the advantage of including the Four Welsh Dances, not otherwise available on CD. These were the last to be written, and their mood follows on naturally from the ambivalence of the Irish Dances, although the second Welsh Dance, with its solemn march, has a distinct affinity with the third Cornish Dance, even if now there is no irony or sense of parody, only a dignified Celtic melancholy, which Penny captures admirably. The composer’s lighter mood returns in the airy third dance with its skipping syncopations, but there are still dark undercurrents and the closing Andante con moto is powerfully solemn, in spite of its curious piccolo interlude, although the coda, with its almost Waltonesque brass writing, does at last hint at the world of those lighthearted, optimistic English Dances written four decades (and a lifetime of experience) earlier.
With the composer working with Penny on the score prior to the recording in Australia, it is not surprising that the tempos are very like Arnold’s own in his superb set of performances made with the LPO for Lyrita at the end of the 1970s. Where there is a difference, Penny is slightly faster, but the effect is marginal. The greater character of the LPO under Arnold shows in the very first of the English Dances, notably at the reprise, which is more warmly positive, capped with a superb cymbal crash (backwardly balanced and less effective on Naxos). The Queensland Hall is noticeably reverberant and detail is generally less well focused than on the Lyrita disc; yet so vivid is Arnold’s scoring that not much is missed. The lovely Mesto third English Dance is certainly beautifully done in Queensland and in the second set of English Dances, the Con brio and Giubiloso have all the necessary colour and flair; even if the charming oboe solo of the Grazioso (No. 3) is creamier in London, the Australian oboist is neat and pleasing. The Australian orchestra have obviously warmed up for the Scottish set and the inebriated Glaswegian is nicely observed (hints of
The forthright opening Cornish Dance again demonstrates the richer sonorities of the LPO, and the composer finds a special poignancy in the following sad picture of the deserted copper mines. Yet Penny captures its mysterious evocation well and in the Sankey and Moody processional the Queensland brass make a powerful impression. In the Irish Dances, written 20 years later (1986), Arnold’s ebullience is already fast waning, and indeed the dance element is only apparent in the outer numbers. The central Commodo and