I haven't really heard too many of the different recordings of Malcolm Arnold's various symphonies, but I'll be hard-pressed to believe that many of them can beat the Hickox versions; taut, powerful readings, immaculate orchestral playing and glorious sound. The fifth and sixth symphonies might very well be his best works in the genre - powerful, melodic, lean but big-boned, full of gorgeous tunes but at the same time bitingly sarcastic, often quite angry, even.
The fifth is rather Sibelian, opening with a slightly distressed but emotionally kaleidoscopic first movement; it is brimful of inventive gestures but is still tautly constructed. The second movement comes with a sense of (dark) relaxation, but drama soon starts to bubble beneath the surface. The last two movements are thematically related to the first and second, respectively. The scherzo is a stunning swirl of electrical power, whereas the finale starts off as an ironic march, moves to a powerful climax and then gives way to a gorgeous, overtly sentimental, Hollywoodesque ending.
The sixth has a certain jazzy feel to it (Arnold himself cited Charlie Parker as an influence), but mixed with Sibelius, Martinu and Hollywood film music. Of all of Arnold's works I've heard, this is probably the most immediately appealing (it is also the shortest), although repeated listenings reveal yet new aspects - in short, this is a fabulously inventive, imaginative and strikingly scored work.
The London Symphony Orchestra plays with commitment and flair and Hickox manages impressively to steer the performances between the Scylla and Charybdis of over-romanticizing the music and over-analyzing it. In short, these are crisp, buoyant, zesty and powerful - I won't hesitate to call them spectacular - performances. The sound is superb; clear and warm and full-bodied. A marvelous disc, urgently recommended.