The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: The concerto soloist does his best in the face of weak musical material
Musicians: Raphael Wallfisch (cello) Esther Ingram (flute) John Turner (recorder) Carl Raven (alto saxophone) Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward*, Manchester Sinfonia/Richard Howarth† 
Composer: Arnold

Malcolm Arnold has garnered many plaudits for his accessible and skilled scores. His final concerto, the Cello Concerto composed for Julian Lloyd Webber, is an extremely disappointing work, however. There are frequent patches of note-spinning, particularly in the first movement, and the musical motifs are dull and repetitive. Nonetheless, the music is delivered with an impressive intensity and commitment from Raphael Wallfisch in this world-premiere recording, where the cellist artfully serves the diminished invention with well-honed characterisation.

On the plus side, the disc places the Cello Concerto in a wider context of Arnold’s other works, including three concertante pieces with wind soloists. Best of all is the much earlier String Symphony op.13. Here, the striking, dramatic motifs are sharply drawn and tightly organised in a quasi-Bartókian style. A fine ear for orchestration and linear writing are recurrent features, with the lean textures of the Andante adding to an understated eloquence. The energetic and exhilarating Allegro feroce is brilliantly delivered by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, serving to redress the balance of Arnold’s legacy.

Joanne Talbot