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Arnold: Symphony Nos. 5 & 6

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 19, 1995
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Richard Hickox
  • Composer: Malcolm Arnold
  • Audio CD (September 19, 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B000000AXB
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,996 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Karl W. Nehring on July 15, 2009
Format: Audio CD
There once was available a recording of the Arnold 6th conducted by Vernon Handley on Conifer, a CD that also includes some shorter pieces by Sir Malcolm. The Chandos cycle recorded by Hickox concentrates on the symphonies themselves, so in this case, the diskmate of the 6th is the 5th, an engaging symphony that is the piece that first got me hooked on Arnold's music back in the late '70s. If you have not yet heard any of Sir Malcolm's symphonies, then this disk is an ideal starting place. The 5th is an engaging symphony that features sweeping melodies and abrupt changes in mood, while the 6th is an intriguing work with haunting instrumental lines and skipping rhythms. In both works, the performances crackle, and the sound quality is top-notch.
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This extremely well recorded disc from 1995 gives a searingly accurate and honest picture of the music and the man, both inseparably linked. The performances by the LSO are simply in the demonstration class as is the recording itself.

Arnold was a trumpet player initially but first made his name through numerous successful film scores. This type of writing enabled him to develop and hone his skill for effective textural effects, the tight control of time span and the ability to achieve his emotional targets with considerable precision and economy of time. He was subsequently able to muster this considerable arsenal of compositional skills when his attention was drawn to concert music such as his series of symphonies or sets of dances.

These skills were apparent right from his first symphony but increasingly after the second symphony his personal problems, which could be described as his dark side, begin to affect the content nd nature of his music. These personal conflicts and confusions are to be found in the following symphonies and these two could be described as the last of those which keep a balance between light and dark. The following three symphonies become increasing inward and focussed on continuing struggle.

The fifth and the sixth symphonies recorded here blend lyrical motifs with discordant and violent episodes. These conflicts and their resolutions are what make Arnold's music so compelling and ultimately satisfying at this stage. The virtuoso use of the orchestra to create and resolve these elements is aurally exciting. There can be little doubt that Arnold was a symphonic composer of stature and Hickox gives us recordings of similar stature here.

I would suggest that these have strong claim , not only to be the best recordings available today, but also the best ever made of these works. As such they warrant serious consideration as a purchase option.
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I haven't really heard too many of the different recordings of Malcolm Arnold's various symphonies, but I'll be hard-pressed to believe that many of them can beat the Hickox versions; taut, powerful readings, immaculate orchestral playing and glorious sound. The fifth and sixth symphonies might very well be his best works in the genre - powerful, melodic, lean but big-boned, full of gorgeous tunes but at the same time bitingly sarcastic, often quite angry, even.

The fifth is rather Sibelian, opening with a slightly distressed but emotionally kaleidoscopic first movement; it is brimful of inventive gestures but is still tautly constructed. The second movement comes with a sense of (dark) relaxation, but drama soon starts to bubble beneath the surface. The last two movements are thematically related to the first and second, respectively. The scherzo is a stunning swirl of electrical power, whereas the finale starts off as an ironic march, moves to a powerful climax and then gives way to a gorgeous, overtly sentimental, Hollywoodesque ending.

The sixth has a certain jazzy feel to it (Arnold himself cited Charlie Parker as an influence), but mixed with Sibelius, Martinu and Hollywood film music. Of all of Arnold's works I've heard, this is probably the most immediately appealing (it is also the shortest), although repeated listenings reveal yet new aspects - in short, this is a fabulously inventive, imaginative and strikingly scored work.

The London Symphony Orchestra plays with commitment and flair and Hickox manages impressively to steer the performances between the Scylla and Charybdis of over-romanticizing the music and over-analyzing it. In short, these are crisp, buoyant, zesty and powerful - I won't hesitate to call them spectacular - performances. The sound is superb; clear and warm and full-bodied. A marvelous disc, urgently recommended.
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I'm always searching for music that is well crafted and art full. This Chandos disc of Malcolm Arnold's 5th and 6th symphonies certainly satisfies those requirements. The 5th symphony, in particular, is an absolute dazzler. The music flows, at times with unapologetic melody only to be contrasted with episodes of edgy, somewhat atonal rhythmic virtuosity. The 2nd movement, which must be considered an homage to Mahler, is a masterpiece. Beautiful string writing reminiscent of the adagietto of Mahler 5 is countered with excursions into Rite of Spring ferocity.
The LSO sounds and plays incredibly. This is a disc not to be missed!
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