Malcolm Arnold’s major work for chorus and orchestra is advertised here as the première recording. The work was composed in 1976 and tells the story of Odysseus’s return to Ithaca after 20 years away. The city had in the meantime been taken over by certain male rabble who demand that Odysseus’s wife Penelope choose a new husband from among them. But Odysseus has landed incognito and prepares to regain his place among the people. Sailors arrive in the city and tell of his adventures, but keep his fate a secret, mischievously chanting “He’ll never come back, he’ll never come back”, a refrain that allows Arnold to inject a nice rhythmic touch. It’s a lively and enjoyable cantata. The women’s voices alternate with the men’s in an enchanting, serene harmony. Orchestra, chorus and soloist Anne Taylor do fine justice to the score, and the recording should be welcomed not only by Arnold aficionados, but by those interested in choral music that can convey a fable in attractive, melodious economy.
Taylor and his orchestra prove worthy of the Milhaud as well. Does it sound subtly British? Maybe, but also lively and sensitive. Toward the Unknown Region gets a relatively buoyant performance, and although it is a minute slower at 13:17 than Boult’s classic rendition, it doesn’t match the master’s touch in this repertoire. Still, it nicely completes a fine, recommendable program whose main interest is the newly recorded Arnold cantata.