Sunday, 20 September 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Concert Piece for Percussion and Piano

I was always taught that it was Bombardier Billy Wells who strikes the gong at the start of Rank Organisation films. I was right and I was wrong. Wells was filmed hitting the gong but the actual sound recording was made by the one-time famous percussionist Jimmy Blades.
Britten composed a Timpani Piece for Jimmy in 1955 and was followed by Malcolm Arnold’s Concert Piece for Percussion in 1958. The work was originally written for a BBC Television production, however the exact time and date of the first performance has not been traced. The original scoring was for three percussionists -and a pianist. A massive array of instruments was used, including timpani, side-drum, bass drum, cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, wood-block, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, whip maracas and bongos. In 1984 Blades produced a version for single percussionist and piano. Both versions have been published by Faber music in that year.
The Concert Piece came at a time that Arnold was writing film music. That year he composed two of his most impressive scores, including The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and the Roots of Heaven. There were only three other ‘concert’ works that year – the Sinfonietta No.2 for chamber Orchestra, the United Nations March and possibly a little piece called Katherine, Walking & Running for two violins. However the Concert Piece is typical of Arnold and allows him to give full reign to both his skill at instrumentation and, perhaps more vitally it is a vehicle for his wit.

Recently I let a friend hear this piece and they suggested to me that it reminded them of the film music for St. Trinians. The first tow films in this series were written before this Concert Piece.

To my knowledge there is only one recording of this work presently on CD – the recent Maestro Sound & Vision MSV0214CD with Sarah Stuart, Siona Watson and Sarah Gage playing percussion and the pianist Peter Noke.
The version given here is for some reason shorter than Stewart Craggs's catalogue suggests of 4½ minutes – it is just under 3. So there is a little bit of a mystery here.

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