About this work
The works of English composer Malcolm Arnold embrace a wide variety of styles, moving freely between the idioms of concert, popular, jazz, and folk music. His varied output includes such works as the film score for The Bridge on the River Kwai (which won him an Oscar) and a harmonica concerto. For the most part, his music is conservative in language, although there are notable exceptions. In works like his Seventh and Eighth symphonies, he takes a rather eclectic approach to composition, closely juxtaposing very different styles.
The Concerto for Flute and Strings, Op. 45, is really a duet for flute and string orchestra; throughout the piece the orchestra responds to, and comments on, the material presented by the flute, and only rarely is it assigned a purely accompanimental role. The string writing reveals Arnold's musical heritage in its similarity to that of earlier British composers such as Britten and Elgar. Both flexibility and simplicity are required of the soloist.
In the first movement, Allegro energico, metric ambiguity and the nearly immediate entrance of the flute combine to create a feeling of extreme instability. The music briefly regains its balance during the statement of a solitary theme, but then quickly returns to, and retains, the unsettled feeling of the opening.
The second movement, Andante, is songlike and understated. Whereas the first and third movements are largely rhythmic in conception, this one takes its direction from the harmonic and melodic interaction between the flute and strings. The simple, restful tune "sung" by the flute, at times becomes the basis of a struggle for power between the soloist and orchestra that causes tonal and rhythmic tensions; but, for the most part, the mood is gentle.
Concisely stated, the final movement, Con fuoco, is a frantic dash to the finish. Incessantly driving orchestral rhythms and the running flute line provide the motion in a relatively static tonal environment (only a couple of playful harmonic gestures provide relief from the otherwise ever-present tonic). Exceptional dexterity is required of the solo flutist.