Sir Malcolm Arnold was nearing 70 when he recorded this collection of overtures with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Arnold had already achieved great success in the world of film scores (A Bridge over the River Kwai won him an Oscar) and light orchestral music. To the surprise of some listeners, he was also a prodigious writer of serious symphonic music having nine (!) symphonies to his credit. By the time that Reference Recordings cajoled this often cantankerous (and not infrequently inebriated) composer/conductor into the studio, he had begun to receive the recognition that his music deserved and was knighted two years later.
This hi-res download (available as a “Super Hi-Rez” download at 176.4 kHz/24-bit resolution from Acoustic Sounds (www.acousticsounds.com) shows Arnold at his most delightful (and presumably on his best behavior). Sir Malcom gives us a series of his “overtures” that is simply intended to make us sit back, enjoy and just smile.
Arnold Overtures was recorded in 1991 in London’s renowned Watford Town Hall (a favorite RCA and Decca venue) but sounds very fresh and new in this hi-res release. The playlist follows:
- A Sussex Overture: (12:16)
- Beckus the Dandipratt (10:47)
- The Fair Field: (12:05))
- The Smoke: (9:23)
- Commonweath Christmans Overture: (18:55)
Composers as conductors are not always the best proponents of their own work but this is certainly not the case here. Arnold milks each of the overtures/tone poems for everything that it is worth turning music that might be considered as an amuse-bouche into nearly a full course. Beckus the Dandipratt (love that title) has always been my favorite and hearing it delivered in full-bodied pedal-to-the-metal sound just made it that much more enjoyable. Of course, I could have reasonably applied this sonic description to the entire program.
The Watford Town Hall has been acclaimed as the best sound venue outside of London and Keith Johnson’s recording team really shows us why. The acoustics are lively yet not aggressively so and we hear all of the orchestral voices perfectly. The soundstage is huge both in width and breadth and those details that we love to hear come right at us. I had the original LP (a deluxe 2-record set) and CD for comparison (which of course I did). How does the hi-res download hold up? The CD, excellent in its day, is readily trumped. As for the vinyl, not so fast. I still must doff the cap to the LP for the bloom and instrumental space, due in no small respect to RR’s spreading the five overtures over four sides. But in most respects the differences are often not readily discernible at equivalent playback levels (and with the download you don’t have to get three times to hear the entire program!).
Christopher Palmer contributes a loving recollection of Malcolm Arnold the man, composer, and musician. I would have loved a bit more on each of the pieces but these are the same liner notes that accompanied the LPs.
The Definitive Word
This recording offers the equivalent of a continental breakfast, albeit at a very expensive European hotel. This is very easy listening classical music that nearly no one with a heartbeat can resist. Arnold was the master of the instantly appealing score and we get five of them on this hi-res download. The recording is excellent and rather than spend a couple of Benjamins on the internet for the LPs, drop three Hamiltons on this one. You will be smiling all the way to the bank.