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Malcolm Arnold: Ballet Music – Chandos

Homage to the Queen Suite Op 42; Rinaldo & Armida Op 49; Sweeney Todd Suite Op 68a; Electra Op 79 BBC Philharmonic, conductor Rumon Gamba

Gramophone Magazine, December 2009 – Andrew Achenbach (+Editor’s Choice) ‘Malcolm Arnold’s great ballet scores championed with heart-warming commitment. Commissioned to mark the 1953 Coronation and choreographed by Frederick Ashton, ‘Homage to the Queen’ Arnold’s first ballet score) enjoyed a glitzy Covent Garden premiere on the evening of the big day itself (June 2). Based around a scenario involving the Four Elements, it’s an enormously fetching creation, from which the composer subsequently extracted the present, crowd-pleasing 20-minute suite, and whose brazenly festive and memorably swaggering outer portions frame four numbers: a bustling “Dance of the Insects” (with echoes of the Scherzo from Arnold’s Symphony 2 completed the same year) leads to “Water” (which incorporates an enchanting waltz from the pas de trios) succeeded in turn by an explosive “Fire Dance”and quite ravishingly lovely “Pas de deux”.

The following year brought the one-act “dance-drama” Rinaldo and Armida’, another considerable achievement, full of first-rate invention and manifesting a sure dramatic instinct. The darkly comic ‘Sweeney Todd’ was conceived in 1959 for the Royal Ballet’s touring company, and David Ellis’s 1984 concert suite (compiled under the composer’s supervision) makes deliciously entertaining listening – fans of Arnold’s impeccably crafted and irresistibly tuneful output for the silver screen will fee right at home. Rounding off a generous programme is Electra’ : the idiom is frequently astringent in the manner of Symphonies 6 & 7 , but there’s no gainsaying the communicative force behind the notes nor the imaginative resource of Arnold’s scoring (beam to the start of track 22 for a taster).

I need merely confirm that the BBC Philharmonic respond with commendable polish and gusto for Rumon Gamba, and their efforts have been afforded typically ripe and lustrous Chandos sound. A hearty endorsement whichever way you look at it.’

Musical Opinion, November/December 2009 – Robert Matthew-Walker
‘This valuable addition to the Arnold discography includes several works new to disc. Given the nature of his inspiration, it is odd that Arnold did not write more ballets, so we must be grateful for these four very different works. I have been especially struck by the concentrated, intensely dramatic,
Electra’ music. Sweeney Todd’ made a deep impression at its premiere 50 years ago, and does so again in this most excellent performance. Indeed, throughout this exceptionally well recorded CD I have been consistently taken by the quality of Gamba’s conducting and by the orchestral playing, the musicians clearly relishing this powerful and highly individual music.’

International Record Review, November 2009 – Peter Marchbank
‘This welcome disc from the BBC Philharmonic and Rumon Gamba brings together for the first time four of [Arnold’s] ballet scores from the 1950s and 1960s, when the composer was at the height of his powers.
… they play these works with great passion and verve and make this a disc that every lover of Arnold’s music will want to own. The sound quality is excellent and there is an informative note in the booklet.’


The Daily Telegraph, 24 October 2009 – Geoffrey Norris
‘If largely neglected in recent times, Sir Malcolm Arnold’s ballets Homage to the Queen, Rinaldo & Armida and Electra were staged at the Royal Opera House, and Sweeney Todd at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Hearing this tender exuberant music, one can be thankful that it has come to the attention of the BBC Phgilharmonic, which plays it with affection and panache.



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