Want more proof that Malcolm Arnold is a great symphonist? Try this disc of Arnold's Fifth and Sixth symphonies by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. They are tightly argued, wonderfully lyrical, brilliantly colored, and utterly individualistic examples of English symphonism at its best. The Fifth is acerbic and ironic and ferocious. The Sixth is more of the same, plus brutal, banal, and vicious. And one never knows with Arnold what the ominous tympani tattoo heralds: it could be a funeral cortege of highest solemnity or a cavalry charge with bugles blazing over thundering tympani, but whatever it is, one never expects it.
But whatever comes next, Hickox and the L.S.O. are up for it. The L.S.O. is a virtuoso orchestra with a long history of recording movie soundtracks and they give Arnold's music the polish and panache it needs to succeed. And Hickox takes it all very seriously: Arnold's Con fuocos are furioso and his Tempestuoso even more so, but Hickox never cracks a smile. Hickox's interpretations are great and grand and hard and fast and tight, but they are rarely funny. And, say what you will, Arnold was a funny as well as a great symphonist. Chandos' 1995 sound is warm and reverberant.