Great, grim, glowing, and glowering, the Symphony No. 9 of Malcolm Arnold breathes the rarified air of those vis à vis la rien, face to face with nothing. Yet the music still shimmers like moonlight though the thin air on the summit, luminous in the chill of eternity. And if there is no warmth up there, there is nevertheless the consolation of having reached that summit, of having breathed that air, and of having felt one's self touched by the high winds of eternity.
And so it is in this magnificent recording by Andrew Penny and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland of Arnold's transcendent Ninth. Recorded in the presence of the composer, Penny and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland's performance is unexpectedly virtuosic, inexplicably polished, and overwhelmingly compelling. The listener stands not only in the presence of a great performance by a great conductor and a great orchestra of a great symphony by a great composer; the listeners breathe the rarified air of eternity. Naxos' 1995 sound is fine as the best of the big labels. The conversation between Arnold and Penny after the end of the symphony is the ideal way to close the disc.