Symphony 4

Ealing Symphony Orchestra, conductor John Gibbons
St Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, London – 10 October 2009

Musical Pointers.Co, 10/10/09 – Bob Briggs
‘Orchestral players love to play his music, the public loves to hear it, yet Sir Malcolm Arnold’s symphonic music is seldom heard in concert … so it is to their credit that the Ealing Symphony Orchestra, and their enthusiastic conductor, John Gibbons, an Arnold fanatic, have undertaken an Arnold Symphony cycle. There is to be one a year – which is probably the first time such a presentation of this much under–rated, and misunderstood, composer has been undertaken in this country. 

The 4th Symphony was a BBC commission, inspired in part by the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. Written for the usual large modern orchestra, Arnold fills the percussion section with “extra percussion instruments which have been used for years in West Indian and South American popular music”.

It’s a fascinating and highly disturbing work which tonight received a performance of great stature and intelligence. Gibbons and his players felt every bar and played their hearts out – the brass section, especially, was superb, rich and rounded, and displayed a real menace when necessary. But the whole orchestra played as if possessed, indeed as if their very lives depended on it. The performance was pregnant with surprises – from the roof raising climaxes to the most delicate traceries of harp, celesta and flute.

At the first performance the audience loved the work and the critics didn’t. Tonight everyone was in accord and the ovation received was Arnold’s due as one of this country’s leading Symphonists. Roll on next year and the 5th!’


The Fourth Malcolm Arnold Festival

Flourish; Carnival of Animals; Symphony 4

Royal & Derngate, Northampton, 25 October, 2009
Gala Evening: the Malcolm Arnold Festival Overture, conductor John Gibbons

Musical Pointers.Co, 25/10/09 – Bob Briggs
Bringing the Fourth Malcolm Arnold Festival to a splendid conclusion John Gibbons directed a splendid show of less well known Arnold …

‘…Flourish is written in his typically avuncular style, well known from his sets of Dances and some of the Overtures; it made a delightful start … and introduced anyone who didn’t know Arnold’s language to his harmonic style. The Carnival of Animals was written for the memorial Hoffnung Concert in 1961 and Arnold chose to illuminate our understanding of certain animals which Saint–Saëns inexplicably forgot to bring into his Grand Zoological Fantasy, thus we have a flock of sheep, “a delightfully placid, pastoral canon, wandering on undisturbed by the most violent irruptions” – hilarious – Jumbo trying to delicate whilst dancing to Delibes pizzicato, played on heavy brass and the real coup Bats where we see the whole orchestra playing like mad men but we cannot hear a thing! Whoever said that there was no visual aspect to a concert? This was very nicely done by the Orchestra with their tongues poked firmly in their cheeks.

The highlight of the show was Arnold’s magnificent 4th Symphony.

Inspired in part by the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 there is much anger and nervous energy in this work, the outer movement, in particular, have an urgency about them which you don’t find elsewhere in this composer’s work. All the various facets - hope, fury, the breakdown of society - were fully realized in this performance …

After the scherzo, a woman sitting behind me said, with almost breathless excitement in her voice, “this is rather good, isn’t it?” And she was right.’



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