Arnold Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 – Hickox

Author: 
Ivan March
Arnold Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 – Hickox

ARNOLD Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 – Hickox

  • Symphony No. 1
  • Symphony No. 2

In October 1991 I welcomed to CD the composer's own 1980 EMI recording of the First Symphony. That performance is special, the more so as it is attractively coupled with (among other things) the delightful Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril with the dedicatees as soloists. Before that, in June 1990, Malcolm Macdonald discussed Sir Charles Groves's account of the Second Symphony, composed (''almost as if it were a Concerto for Orchestra'' said MM) for the Bournemouth Symphony, but he felt the CD did not show the players at their best. (The pairing was the Fifth Symphony conducted by the composer.) Now comes an entirely appropriate coupling of the first two symphonies, superbly played by the LSO and given demonstration sound in what is surely an ideal acoustic for this music, with striking depth and amplitude and a wholly natural brilliance. The dynamic range is wide but the moments of spectacle, and there are quite a few, bring no discomfort.
Richard Hickox shows himself thoroughly at home in both symphonies and the readings have a natural flow and urgency, with the two slow movements bringing haunting atmospheric feeling. The First Symphony opens with thrusting confidence on strings and horns and at its climax, where the strings soar against angry brass ostinatos, the playing generates great intensity; then at the start of the slow movement the purity of the flute solo brings a calm serenity which returns at the close. There are only three movements and the plangent lyrical melancholia of the expansive march theme of the finale is filled out by some superb horn playing which is enormously compelling. (The movement opens with a vigorous fugato in the place of a separate scherzo.)
The first movement of Symphony No. 2 brings a most winning clarinet solo (Arnold's fund of melodic ideas seems inexhaustible), there is an energetic, bustling scherzo to follow, but again it is the slow movement which one remembers for its elegiac opening, its arresting climax and lovely epilogue-like close, where (from 10'18'') the strings play with movingly rapt concentration. The rumbustious finale shows Arnold in the perky, popular vein of the national dances and the piece ends on an upbeat mood of exuberance.
Above all these are real performances without any of the inhibitions of 'studio' recording. Congratulations to all concerned.'

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