Composed in 1954, nearly twenty years before the Flute Concerto No. 2, the Concerto for Flute and Strings bears the hallmarks of a younger, brasher style. The dissonances are sardonic rather than melancholy, sarcastic rather than despairing, and although the first movement is tinged with the melancholy of G Minor, the clear optimism of G major lends vigour to the ebullient rhythms of the finale. Here there is no hard-won battle for the final triumph of a single major chord; indeed, there is scarcely a battle at all, even during the whirlwind flurry of the G minor passage-work in the first movement. This Allegro energico is typical of Arnold's preoccupations during these years; biting dissonances are emphasised by sharply pointed rhythms, anxious ostinato figures in the orchestra bring disquiet to long-breathed melodies in the solo line and the solo line itself encompasses lyrical cantilena, brittle staccato arpeggios and brilliant running figures, revealing the varied qualities of the instrument in the hands of a virtuoso.
The Andante is also paralleled by similar movements in Arnold's output around this time. The apparent complacency of its bland opening is soon shaken by questioning harmonies and jagged rhythms but even the most violent outbursts cannot prevent the final achievement of tranquillity. The finale, like others of this period marked by Arnold to be played "with fire", is an extrovert dash through G major. It is not without a pointed play of cross-rhythms to give bite to those insistent tonic chords, however, and it has a carefully judged rhythmic framework in the orchestra to set off those passages where the soloist hurtles full-tilt through bars of semiquavers.
© 1980 Margaret Archibald