I'm often asked what's my favorite LP. I always respond with it's too difficult to choose. Yet, to myself, Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby sometimes shoots to the front of my cerebral cortex or Dorati's LSO Firebird on Mercury. Muddy Waters Folk Singer on MoFi, too. Reiner/Chicago has to have a couple of LSCs in there, right? But, you know, there is one, no matter the year, the month, the day, the mood, which always places itself first among equals, pushed to the front of my line by its brilliance and unquantifiable musical kismet. A perfect musical storm. Arnold: Overtures with the composer, Malcolm Arnold conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Reference Recordings.
The primary reason I'm writing this article is to give a copy of this brilliant album (newly remastered and pressed by Reference Recordings) to one of our readers, not simply to give you my nominee for heavenly vinyl status. That said, I'm sure many of you have one for stardom. Please comment below. I would like to read your choice.
While we're here, let's look at why this album is so special. The magic was just right. Location, music, artists, repertoire, timing, producer and engineer. I'm not sure why London has the world's worst concert halls but the best recording locations--Watford Town Hall ensures spectacular sounds on this LP. A perfect amount of bloom, with volume in width and height and superb acoustics for massive and minuscule dynamics, and, most probably, a good canteen/bar for the orchestra's break (a very important factor, if you've ever worked with Brit bands). It was probably bad enough to hoof it up to Watford (not London's most comely borough; end of the line tube, lousy roads or an expensive train), so a happy band gets the job done better and faster.
The London Philharmonic is so brilliant, they probably read through the repertoire with the red light on during the rehearsal then completed the rest with 'patch' sessions. In any case, the recording took place August 14 and 16, 1991. The team was the regular Reference Recordings’ wonderful cast of characters, headed by engineer Prof. Keith O. Johnson. A Versa Dynamics Model 1 Turntable with Lyra Clavis cart, specially modified CD player (think 1991), Spectral electronics (Prof. Johnson's company) with Snell Type B and modified Quad loudspeakers served as Reference's reference.
A grant from The Absolute Sound helped get the production off the ground. For that, we should be ever thankful to HP and his magazine.
The music by England's great classical and film composer Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006), is splendid. You'll hear melodies aplenty with glorious harmonies and intriguing rhythms. No squeaky gate music, here. Arnold, already famous with audiophiles for his 'Dances' albums on magnificent EMIs and Lyritas and Overture to "Tam O'Shanter" on the famous Witches' Brew LSC, began his musical career as principal trumpet of the orchestra sitting before him on this recording. His film music is legendary, and he wrote many popular orchestral works, including nine symphonies.
He was also a great lover of jazz, and the idiom influences much of his music. My father and Audiophilia writer Harry Curry got to work with Arnold in the late 50s; he promised to write a piece for their jazz vocal group, The Concords. Sadly, for much of the 50s, 60s and 70s, Arnold suffered from severe depression and alcoholism. Many promises were not kept. But both men told me what a lovely fellow he was, and, when focused, was ready to discuss music of all kinds.
Back to the gem. Like all great LP productions, Arnold:Overtures is the perfect trifecta--music, sound, and performance. The music will speak for itself, but the superlative sound (what a conjuror Prof. Johnson is) is matched by the performance. The happy band sounds fresh, young, invigorated through the musical lens of the great solo artists of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. No matter whether full ensemble (with some of the most impressive crescendos ever heard on an LP--watch your volume first time through!) to the myriad of brilliant solos, you won't hear much better than this London orchestra in the dog days of the summer of '91.
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Our thanks to my friend Jan Mancuso of Reference Recordings for the LP.
Recording information from Reference Recordings:
Authoritative first recordings of important works composed and conducted by Sir Malcom Arnold (1921-2006), one of England’s very greatest composers. 1993 GRAMMY® Nominee for Best Engineered Classical Recording. A perennial hi-fi favorite recorded by Keith O. Johnson now available on LP! This new Reference Mastercuts LP release is a single 180 gram disc, half-speed mastered at 33 1/3 rpm by Paul Stubblebine, pressed on virgin vinyl at Quality Record Pressings, and contained in a beautiful gatefold jacket with original artwork.
- A Sussex Overture, Op. 31
- Beckus the Dandipratt, Op. 5
- The Smoke, Op. 21
- The Fair Field, Op. 110