While listening to Richard Hickox conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in these performances of Malcolm Arnold's first two symphonies, one is made aware over and over again of just how fine a conductor Hickox is and just how fine an orchestra the L.S.O. is. That Hickox is almost certainly the best English conductor of his generation is proven in his handling of line, shape, dynamic, and flow: everything is precisely in its place and everything is moving powerfully and ineluctably forward toward an inevitable conclusion. That the L.S.O. remains one of the very best English orchestras is demonstrated in its strong yet supple strings, brilliant and colorful winds, clean but commanding brass, and ability to work as individuals and as an ensemble.
One is less aware of just how fine a composer Arnold is. Although the Symphony No. 1 and No. 2 are tight, hard, and muscular works with big things to say and the technical, intellectual, and ethical capacity to say them, one is so busy being impressed by Hickox and the L.S.O. -- and of course by Chandos' stupendous 1995 digital sound -- that one can almost overlook the magnificence of the music. And while repeated hearings only serve to emphasize the quality of the performances, the music seems to recede into the distance. Brilliant performances and stunning sound, but if you want to hear Arnold's Symphony No. 1 and No. 2, try Vernon Handley's recordings from the '90s or the composer's own recordings from the '60s or '70s.