While English composer Malcolm Arnold’s symphonies have been recorded successfully in the past, this new release presents a uniquely fascinating programme. These works were composed in Ireland (1973-76) when Arnold’s life was in turmoil: his marriage collapsed, his alcoholism worsened, and he attempted suicide. It’s all documented here.
Symphony No 7 (1973) is in three movements, each designated as a portrait of one of Arnold’s children. References to other music appear, such as an evocation of Irish dance towards the end of the third movement – a nod to his son Robert’s love of folk group The Chieftains. Repetitive motifs in the second movement represent his son Edward’s autism. It is both unsettled and unsettling.
The Fantasy on a Theme of John Field is possibly one of the most schizophrenic pieces ever written. In this set of variations on Field’s gentle Nocturne No 7 (Reverie), a malevolent force seems determined to throw every variation off balance with dissonant, explosive interruptions. Peace is only achieved in Peter Donohoe’s performance of Field’s original nocturne, sensibly programmed after the Fantasy. Similar savagery afflicts the Philharmonic Concerto, a succinct concerto for orchestra.
Pianist, conductor and orchestra are all on top form, relishing Arnold’s contrasts, while Dutton’s sound makes the most of his brazen orchestration.