East Winds

Arnold: Wind Chamber Music

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This splendid CD by the British ensemble East Winds (not to be confused with the U.S. East Winds Ensemble) will deepen the general appreciation for Malcolm Arnold, inasmuch as the composer's music for winds, with the possible exception of the genial Three Shanties, Op. 4, remains known mostly to enthusiasts outside of Britain. The music comes from various stages of Arnold's career, but much of it dates from the 1940s and reflects the composer's engagement with light music and with American jazz. This aspect of Arnold's music remains underrated. He did not treat American music abstractly or sensually as most of his European contemporaries did; instead, he remains true to the spirit of jazz while still elaborating the material in ways derived from the concert traditions of his day, principally of the neo-Classic variety. The music on the album ranges from pieces closely akin to Arnold's film scores to clever little dissections of jazz, with the Suite Bourgeoise of the early '40s (tracks 13-17) offering an especially unusual mixture of styles ranging from tango to sober polyphony. The brassy middle movement bears the curious title "Dance (censored)"; the booklet explains that "whorehouse" was the original subtitle. The big question mark here is the presentation of the most recent work on the album, the Duo for Two Clarinets, Op. 135, composed in 1988. Its six movements are divided from each other and treated as interludes in the program. One can see why the performers wanted to do this, for there is a divertimento-like aspect to this little work. Throwing each movement into relief also makes the listener focus on the complexities (often humorous) of its individual parts. But one can't help feeling that the work, which combines Bartók's understanding of polyphony with Mompou's uses of silence and yet is unmistakably Arnold's own, is being slightly undersold by this treatment. Whatever the listener may conclude, there's more than enough wonderful new music on this disc to make it worth the while of any fan of British music.

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