Who would believe a composer with as much taste, talent, and technique as English modernist Richard Arnell could be so completely forgotten after his death? And who would believe he could be so quickly remembered again, and by two different conductors on two different labels on two different continents? Yet it is so: the English Dutton label and the American Con Brio Recordings label both released pairings of Arnell's Fourth and Fifth symphonies within months of each other in 2007 and 2008.
Unfortunately, Con Brio's recording is vastly inferior to Dutton's. Where Dutton's sound is clear, crisp, and vivid, Con Brio's is dim, gray, and muffled with limited dynamic and frequency ranges. Even more unfortunately, Con Brio's performance is drastically inferior to Dutton's performance. While Warren Cohen seems to be an able conductor and the MusicaNova Orchestra appears to be an adequate orchestra, they sound like they are sight reading Arnell's scores: they get through their parts but their performances lack polish, depth, and coherence.
Worse yet, they hardly seem able to understand Arnell's music. When performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates, Arnell's music sounds hugely dramatic, convincingly romantic, and totally confident. Performed by Cohen and the MusicaNova Orchestra, however, it sounds sketchy, scrappy, and bombastic. Anyone who enjoys the symphonies of Alwyn and Arnold will likely enjoy Arnell's, but those listeners are pointed in the direction of the Dutton disc.