Sir Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921)
Divertimento, opus 37

I - Allegro energico; II - Languido; III - Vivace; IV - Andantino; V - Maestoso; VI - Piacevole

The woodwind trio, although not a common combination, has nevertheless enjoyed moderate success, and this work, composed in 1952 in six short movements, heads the repertoire for this ensemble. The individuality of each instrument in such a small group is augmented by their strikingly different tone qualities, and Arnold treats them with equality throughout a variety of different textures.

The work opens with a joyful movement, with a characterful theme which outlines an arpeggio and is passed around the ensemble in imitation. The breaks in the flow of the movement, in order to explore new ideas and textures, are somewhat reminiscent of the composer's earlier Three Shanties for wind quintet. The second movement begins with a lilting melody for flute, passed to oboe. This gives way to the slow clarinet theme (accompanied by an independent rocking figure in the other instruments) that forms the basis of the movement; the music here possesses a directionless, extratemporal quality. By contrast, the next movement is energetic, with an arpeggiaic theme first heard in clarinet, then passed imitatively between the instruments before a final accelerando clarinet flourish.

The following, static Andantino contains a lyrical oboe solo with a modal, folklike flavour, accompanied by a quasi-ostinato of long clarinet notes and grace notes in the flute. The majestic fifth movement contrasts homogeneous unison passages, which recall the theme of the first movement, with sections in which the three instruments demonstrate a remarkable degree of independence from one another. A virtuosic prestissimo passage closes the movement and prepares for the next, which follows immediately.

The work comes full circle in the final movement as the opening theme is metamorphosed into a pleasing flute melody, sensitively accompanied by the two lower instruments, and breaking into brief unison at two points before fading to a close. CMW

© 1996 The Arethusa Ensemble