Sir Malcolm Arnold Dances

Photograph: Floridians and "Yankees" dinning on the deck at Clark's Fish Camp near Jacksonville, Florida.

This week I am recommending something a little different for music lovers.  Sir Malcolm Arnold's Dances includes English, Cornish, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh dances. I particularly enjoy several of the Cornish compositions for their majesty and full sound.  Check out the following recommendation.

"Malcolm Arnold, famous for his film music (Bridge on the River Kwai), symphonies (many available on the Chandos label), and overtures, is here represented in a very entertaining series of Dances; composed between English Dances Set I in 1950 and the Welsh Dances in the past decade or so, spanning Opus' 27 to 138.

In many of Arnolds' symphonies, he uses many sounds evocative of Mahler and Sibelius, often brooding, creating expansive landscapes with little program associated with the music. With this series of dances, you will find nothing of that. The dances might most closely be associated with a Holst Suite or the Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite, etc., but that would be doing these works an injustice. Each set is filled with musical pictures of each country they represent.

Each set of Dances follows the form of 1. Fast Movement 2. Scherzo-esque movement 3. Slow Movement featuring a lonely solo wind instrument on melody taken up by the sweeping strings later and 4. Fast Movement.

The outside movements are all gloriously vivacious. They often feature bubbling woodwind sections, tight fast moving brass acclamations, extremely high horn rips, rousing melodies and climaxes to get the blood boiling. These outer movements are truly exhilarating. The scherzo movements are very playful, usually featuring the interplay between woodwinds and strings. The slow movements are among some of the most beautiful written. Obviously taken from folk-song sources, these gorgeous melodies and orchestrations remind one of Grainger and Vaughan Williams.

This CD alone could be bought just for English dances I & II and the Scottish dances (which has the jaw-dropping sixteenth-note triple-toungings and ear-crunching horn-rips). Andrew Penny along with the Queensland Symphony blast through this music, creating a great English atmosphere along with edge-of-your-seat performances. All in all, this recording is great fun and great light British music. Do not hesitate to try this CD, one of the only complete sets of Arnold Dances (check out Chandos at full price) at a great price!"