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Arnold: Clarinet Concerto & Orchestral Works

Arnold: Clarinet Concerto & Orchestral Works

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Rumon Gamba leads the BBC Philharmonic in this collection of lesser-known pieces by the British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold.

Born 1921, Arnold was inspired by Louis Armstrong to take up the trumpet at the age of twelve. Following study at the Royal College of Music, in London, he became Principal Trumpet of the London Philharmonic, in 1943 – a post he held (bar one season at the BBC Symphony Orchestra) until he moved to composing full time, in 1948.

Arnold was active in many genres, writing nine symphonies, two operas, five ballets, and more than 100 film scores, including The Bridge on the River Kwai for which he won an Oscar.

This album features music from across his compositional career, from Larch Trees (1943) to the Philharmonic Concerto (1976) – both works written for the London Philharmonic. His Divertimento was written for the newly formed National Youth Orchestra, whilst the BBC commissioned the Commonwealth Christmas Overture for the twenty-fifth anniversary of King George VI’s first Christmas Broadcast, in 1932. The Clarinet Concerto No. 1, expertly performed here by Michael Collins, was written for Frederick (‘Jack’) Thurston who gave the première, in 1949, at the Edinburgh Festival. The album concludes with Philip Lane’s orchestration of The Padstow Lifeboat, originally composed for brass band to celebrate the launch of a new lifeboat in Padstow in 1968.


What better way to start the New Year than with a bumper disc of Malcolm Arnold at his most entertaining. The program of this recording has been somewhat dictated by music missing from the extensive Chandos catalogue of the composer, so the result is something of a seeming hotch-potch albeit a very engaging one.

Conductor Rumon Gamba and the ever-reliable BBC Philharmonic are old hands at Arnold and this style of repertoire which they play with genuine flair and engagement throughout. While none of the repertoire is new to the catalogue, four of the works are receiving only their second commercial recordings, and, with one exception, all the other recordings of these works are over twenty years old. Furthermore, most of those older recordings appear to be out of print. So even if this new disc were not as fine as it is, it would pretty much have the field to itself.

The most recorded work on this disc is the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 Op.20. The soloist here is Michael Collins, who recorded it as part of the Conifer survey back in 1988. Collins’ playing is simply superb; expressive and humorous, articulate, virtuosic. Conductor Ramon Gamba is most imaginative with his phrasing and attention to dynamics and accentuation.

The Divertimento No. 2 Op.24/75 is a great example of unaffected, unbuttoned Arnold. The flair and brio of this present recording is undeniable and affords great listening pleasure.

Near the other end of Arnold’s compositional career is the Philharmonic Concerto, Op.120 written in 1976. This is Arnold at one of his very darkest times rather desperately trying to make out that everything is just fine while the music tells a different story. Again this new performance is simply excellent – unflinchingly muscular and dynamic with an aggressive edge that seems wholly, if somewhat uncomfortably, appropriate.

The disc ends with a collective sigh of relief – the utterly brilliant Padstow Lifeboat in its orchestral transcription by Phillip Lane. The original Brass Band version is incomparable and utterly “right” but Lane’s orchestration is a delight.

So an uplifting conclusion to a disc guaranteed to raise spirits in the dank winter months with performances and recordings to match or supplant any in the catalogue. Recording dates show sessions split by the pandemic but the sound and playing is superbly consistent. A top-notch Chandos release to start the year right down to the cover photograph of the RNLB James and Catherine Macfarlane – the eponymous Padstow Lifeboat itself. Certainly a disc to show the range and quality of Arnold’s mercurial genius in all its glory.

-- MusicWeb International

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 06, 2023

  • UPC: 095115215227

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 20152

  • Label: Chandos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Malcom Arnold

  • Conductor: Rumon Gamba

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic

  • Performer: Michael Collins