Malcolm Arnold’s Centenary Celebration on SOMM


Violinist Peter Fisher and pianist Margaret Fingerhut’s centenary celebration of composer Malcolm Arnold has been a pleasing listening experience over the past couple of weeks. It’s taken a few weeks to be able to write about it.

I see Arnold as either misunderstood or under-appreciated. Someone who straddled concert and movie world, often overlooked because he was brilliant meeting his brief, and at the same time celebrated by people of a certain age (around 50) for writing cracking melodies and harmonies that withstood re-arranging for whatever musical forces were either available or wanting to place his music.

My introduction to his music was via his Peterloo Overture. Programmatic stuff. Educational without being brow-beaty. Fun and engaging with a bit of dark edge. A musical evocation of someone you feel inexplicably uneasy looking at after you’ve absent-mindedly followed him into a dark alleyway.

His first violin sonata which features on Fisher and Fingerhut’s SOMM release from last year has this vaguely threatening air about it. Written in his late twenties, it’s sense menace will unsettle the more pleasing folk tune melodies the composer celebrates or parodies (depending on your point of view). In the deft hands of Fisher snd Fingerhut I like this music by Arnold. It makes sense of an increasingly dark terrifying world. The second movement in particular.

In a similar vein, I’d pick out the the Waltz from the five pieces for violin originally written for Yehudi Menuhin. This could have so easily been straight and dull, but running to 2 minutes 20 or so there is spirit in the characterisation in both piano and violin that highlights Arnold’s breathtakingly efficient snd evocative writing. I am frankly amazed that the fifth piece brimming with so jazz-infused joyousness pre-dates Menuhin’s Grapelli collaboration.

If you’ve really no time to commit to the entire album then pick out the first track Sarabande, and the second op.27 English Dance from set 1. For all we bang about Vaughan Williams mastery of the music pastoral sound, I think in this arrangement Arnold’s heartfelt and sincere gentility is laid bare – someone able to pick out a tune and treat in a way that triggers the emotion without bringing on uncontrollable nausea. In this consistently excellent recording the brilliance of Arnold’s writing is laid bare.

A treat of a listen at the top of 2022.