BBC Music Magazine

Macolm Arnold’s The Return of Odysseus was composed in 1976 for a concert of the School’s Music Association. Patric Dickinson’s specially written text tells the story, and the back story, in simple, breezy language, though it’s rather constrained by the lack of any solo parts. Arnold’s setting is concise and clearly organised, and offers young performers some catchily singable tunes, occasionally recalling Britten’s St. Nicolas, and one wonderful if all too brief moment of aleatoric speech when Odysseus slays Penelope’s hapless suitors. But this premiere recording isn’t ideal; although it’s well paced, there are bits of untidy unison singing from the men and some wrong, or drastically rewritten, choral dynamics; and both chorus and orchestra sound underpowered in a cramped acoustic. The couplings are an odd choice, especially when British publishers’ catalogues must be stuffed with cantatas for young performers worth reviving alongside the Arnold. Vaughan Williams’ early visionary setting Toward the Unknown Region makes little impact, with the chorus soft-grained in tone and severely limited in dynamic range. And Milhaud’s Suite Française, a brash wind-band piece reworked by the composer in equally bright orchestral colours, seems a bizarrely inappropriate interlude. All in all, one for dyed-in-the-wool Arnold enthusiasts.

* note by Divine Art: In these pages we publish all reviews in full – whether good or bad. Often we can recognise criticisms, often of a subjective nature, which are reasonable and valid. To see the above by a critic as respected as Mr Burton raised a laugh, as it is in such obvious and complete contradiction to other reviews, even in details. To criticise the men of the chorus for “untidy unison singing” when they are in dramatic roles – as rough sailors – seems rather inappropriate, and rather sets the tone of the review. From his views on the sound, which we regard as of demonstration quality, we presume he was listening on an iPod. Yes it is closely-miked – it is designed to be dramatic, dynamic and “full-frontal” as befits the music.

—Anthony Burton