These recordings of two of Arnold's finest symphonies carry the composer's imprimatur (he attended the sessions). Penny is clearly right inside every bar, and the orchestra play with impressive ensemble and feeling, and above all great freshness and spontaneity.
The Naxos recording's concert-hall ambience has been beautifully caught. One of the finest players in Dublin is the principal oboe, whose solos often bring a specially plangent quality, particularly in the slow movement of No 3, where there's a real sense of desolation. The finale then lightens the mood with its kaleidoscope of wind and brass and a wispy string melody that soon becomes more fulsome. Penny's momentum and characterisation here are superb, as is the orchestral response. Similarly the winningly scored opening of the Fourth Symphony flashes with colour: that marvellous tune (2'44") is played with captivating delicacy by the violins. The exquisitely fragile Scherzo is etched with gossamer lightness and the slow movement is shaped by Penny with fine lyrical feeling and the most subtle use of light and shade. Its romanticism is heart-warming, yet is also balanced by Arnold's underlying unease. The boisterous fugal finale has some of the best playing of all.
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