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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Malcolm Arnold: A Composer Who Was Everything The Suits Hated

By Norman Lebrecht on October 9, 2020

Malcolm Arnold

Malcolm Arnold: The Dancing Master (Resonus)

★★★★☆

🎧  Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify

The most popular and prolific composer of his time, Malcolm Arnold was shunned by the British music establishment for being, mostly, too popular and prolific, and therefore a potent threat to the nonentities who were not. Arnold (1921-2006) had other crosses against his name. He was a former orchestral player (working class), an Oscar winner (disgraceful), a tonal symphonist (non-BBC-pc), an alcoholic and a philanderer who suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. In short, he was everything the suits hated.

Proof of their power is attested by this one-act opera which, written in 1952, was rejected by a panel of BBC executives who had commissioned it for the new television service and never staged. Not serious enough, they said, and a bit bawdy. The composer reminded them that they’d asked for was a comedy. He might as well have talked to the wall.

I knew Malcolm slightly in his later years, a stooped, tragic figure under heavy medication. His nine symphonies have never been programmed as a cycle, a major omission by BBC pen-pushers and their under-employed orchestras.
The Dancing Master, in what appears to be its premiere recording, has better music than Britten’s village comedy Albert Herring, and much better jokes. To quote one of the early lines: ‘Huh! House of gluttony, house of venery! License! Debauchery! Lechery! Harlotry! Shut the window! Shut the window! We’ll have no stench of sin in here!’ Doesn’t that make you want to see the opera as soon as it can be staged?

Eleanor Dennis sings the love-interest Miranda, Catherine Carby is the scheming Prue and Ed Lyon is a suitor who gets into her chambers in the guise of a dance teacher. John Andrews sparks a lively performance from the BBC Concert Orchestra. It has brightened a COVID week for me. I’m off now in pursuit of safe venery.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, follow him on Slippedisc.com.

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Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
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FEATURE | Beethoven At 250: An Icon At Risk Of Overexposure?

By David Larkin on October 21, 2020

This year marks Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday. Though some of his creations have been overexposed, there are still others waiting to be discovered.
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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Benjamin Britten For The Edge Of Your Seat

By Norman Lebrecht on October 23, 2020

Benjamin Britten’s often overlooked Sinfonia da Requiem gets a hypertense new recording by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
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CRITIC'S PICKS | Classical Music Livestreams You Absolutely Need To See This Week (Oct. 12 – 18)

By Joseph So on October 12, 2020

Classical music and opera events streaming on the web for the week of October 12 – 18.
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