ARNOLD Symphonies Nos. 7, 8 & 9; Oboe Concerto – Gamba
No sooner have Naxos rounded off their Arnold symphony cycle with a firstrate coupling of the Symphonies Nos 7 and 8‚ than Chandos after a long pause also complete their cycle. Just in time for the composer’s 80th birthday‚ they offer these three final symphonies as well as the Oboe Concerto in a twoforthepriceofone package. When in the Chandos cycle the earlier symphonies were all recorded by Richard Hickox and the LSO‚ and impressively so‚ it would have been tidier to have them completing the series‚ yet the young Britishtrained conductor‚ Rumon Gamba‚ and the BBC Philharmonic in no way fall short in their electrifying performances.
So soon after Andrew Penny’s readings of Nos 7 and 8 for Naxos‚ it is fascinating to get a strikingly contrasted view. Particularly in No 7 Gamba takes a more urgent approach‚ with his account of the first movement alone three minutes shorter than Penny’s. With weightier orchestral sound‚ helped by a full‚ atmospheric Chandos recording‚ he is‚ on balance‚ even more compelling‚ though in that first movement the ragtime march halfway through loses some of its grotesquerie at a faster speed (track 1‚ 6'40"). At a more flowing speed in the slow movement Gamba is warmer than Penny‚ less chilly.
One consistent advantage of Gamba’s faster speeds is that the extra challenge to the orchestra brings out an element of daring‚ almost always an advantage in writing that is surreal in its sharp juxtapositions of ideas and mood‚ with Mahlerian references to popular music. That is specially true of the Giubiloso third movement of No 9. Penny and his Irish players by comparison seem almost too wellbehaved‚ though the transparency of the sound lets one hear the heaviest textures clearly. Only in the slow movement of No 8 does Gamba take a markedly broader view than Penny‚ again in a reading more warmly expressive‚ with the rich string melody of the countersubject bringing a sensuous upward portamento (track 5‚ 1'53").
The final Mahlerian slow movement of the Ninth in Gamba’s hands is also warmer‚ weightier and more measured than with Penny‚ though both sustain the slow‚ spare writing superbly‚ with Gamba bringing an extra velvety warmth to the final movements of consolation. The Oboe Concerto makes a welcome supplement on that second disc‚ with Gamba and his excellent soloist‚ Jennifer Galloway‚ bringing out the wit and biting jauntiness of earlier Arnold.