ARNOLD:  Symphony No. 7, Op. 113.  Symphony No. 8, Op. 124
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Andrew Penny, cond.

NAXOS 8.552001 (B) (ADD) TT:63:55
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With this disk Naxos completes its set of the nine symphonies of Sir Malcolm Arnold bringing the project to a triumphant close.  The Chandos series which began so splendidly with the first six symphonies performed by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony is being completed by Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic (a 2-CD set that also includes the Oboe Concerto) as of this writing unissued.  Vernon Handley's set with the Royal Philharmonic on Conifer currently is difficult to obtain.

Aside from the austere Symphony No. 9 (of which Naxos made the premiere recording), the Seventh and Eighth are the most problematic for listeners.  Symphony No. 7, a bitter, despairing work, is cryptically dedicated to his three children, Symphony No. 8 is even darker in nature. For more about these works—and other music of this composer—see the feature on Malcolm Arnold on this site.  

Penny and his fine orchestra capture all of the ominous aspects of these powerful, disturbing symphonies.  In March 2000 Sir Malcolm said he had attended Naxos' recording sessions (February 21-11) and was very pleased with the results, particularly the sound of the cowbell in Symphony 7 (to be heard at 16:07 in the first movement, 11;45 in the second and 7:07 in the third).  The NSO of Ireland plays very well indeed, if not with the consummate virtuosity displayed by the Royal Philharmonic directed by Vernon Handley on the Conifer recording. 

 Engineered and produced by Tim Handley and Phil Rowlands, the sound is vivid and wide-range.  This is a fitting tribute to the distinguished British composer on the occasion of his 80th birthday (October 21, 2001), and highly recommended. Congratulations to Naxos on carrying out this significant project in such a masterful fashion...and at budget price.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2001)