Arnold Symphonies Nos 5 and 6

Author: 
Ivan March
Arnold Symphonies Nos 5 and 6

ARNOLD Symphonies Nos 5 and 6 – Hickox

  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 6

Arnold's Fifth Symphony is one of his most accessible and rewarding works and the composer's own EMI recording, made in 1972, a decade after the music was composed, is special. The acoustics of the De Montfort Hall, Leicester seem quite admirable in terms of Arnold's own presentation of a work which, with its Tempestuoso first movement and essentially lyrical, pain-filled Andante (which the composer described as an emotional cliche), brings a balance between deep personal feeling and an expression of irony at life's unrelenting dance. A characteristically brash and exuberantCon fuoco scherzo precedes the high-spirited 'pipe and tabor' finale which brings back the main theme of the slow movement and ends obliquely: it sounds as if it is being composed in the presence of the listener.
The inspiration for the symphony was the early deaths of several of the composer's friends and colleagues: Dennis Brain, Frederick Thurston, David Paltenghi and Gerard Hoffnung. They are all remembered in the first movement and Hoffnung's spirit clearly pops up in the third and fourth. The Chandos recording is more richly resonant than the EMI version, and that reinforces the impression that in Hickox's hands the Andante has an added acceptance in its elegaic close, while the last two movements are the more colourfully expansive. The reading overall is clearly modelled on the composer's own and if it conveys a slightly less potent underlying anguish, the playing is certainly no less deeply felt.
The Sixth Symphony (1967) is nothing like so comfortable as the Fifth, with a bleak unease in the unrelenting energy of the first movement, which becomes even more discomfiting in the desolate start to the Lento. This leads to a forlorn suggestion of a funeral march, which then ironically quickens in pace but is suddenly cut down; the drum strokes become menacingly powerful and the despairing mood of the movement's opening returns. Hickox handles this quite superbly and grips the listener in the music's pessimism, which then lifts completely with the energetic syncopated trumpet theme of the rondo finale. Although later there are moments of ambiguity, and dissonant reminders of the earlier music, these are eclipsed by the thrilling life-asserting coda.
In both symphonies the splendidly expansive Chandos recording increases the weight and power of utterance and I think that, though Handley's earlier version of the Sixth is riveting, Hickox is even more compelling.'

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