Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recording firsts of important works … lovingly performed, superbly recorded.
Orpheus must have spent an extensive holiday in the British Isles in the 1870s. His lyre spread a magic spell in all directions, spawning a pantheon of composers including many of the shining lights of the British Musical Renaissance. This decade not only saw the birth of the acknowledged masters Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, John Ireland and Frank Bridge but also Frederic Austin, W.H. Bell, Rutland Boughton, Havergal Brian, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Fritz Hart, Hamilton Harty, Joseph Holbrooke, William Hurlstone, Cyril Rootham, Cyril Scott and Donald Tovey. Most were schooled at home at the RCM or RAM. Some went abroad for their
training but all contributed countless works that enriched the British musical scene in the first half of the twentieth century. This talented group including the lesser-known names has become much better represented on CDs in recent years by recordings of many of their major orchestral works. Now another creative voice from that remarkable era has emerged from relative obscurity in a very auspicious way.
Thomas Dunhill was born in London in 1877 and studied with Charles Stanford and Frederick Taylor at the Royal College of Music. He later became a professor at that school and also taught at Eton. To promote the music of his contemporaries, he founded in 1907 the "Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concerts" and also worked as a conductor. His compositional output was not vast but included light operas (his most successful genre), ballets, orchestral works, chamber music and songs. In addition to his single Symphony, making its recorded début on this release, some of his other works for orchestra written over the span of four decades and ranging from serious to light are: Rhapsody in A minor (1903), a suite for small orchestra The Pixies (1908), Capricious Variations on an Old English Tune for Cello and Orchestra (1910), prelude The King’s Threshold (1913), Elegiac Variations on an Original Theme (1922), Chiddingfold Suite for Strings (1922), The Guildford Suite (1925), Triptych - Three Impressions for Viola and Orchestra (1942), Waltz Suite (1943) and overture May-Time (1945).
According to Lewis Foreman’s highly informative booklet notes, Dunhill’s Symphony in A minor was first conceived in 1913 and completed in 1916. It received a reading at the RCM in 1922 but had its official première that same year in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The first British performance took place the following year in Bournemouth conducted by the composer. Before disappearing prior to this current recording the Symphony would receive several further hearings with its last one being in 1935.
The Symphony makes an immediate impression as a big, warm, tuneful and memorable statement. It is decidedly conventional and old-fashioned even for its own time. No influence of the folksong movement or Delian pantheism is evident while the influence of Elgar’s Symphonies is unmistakable though not pervasive. Despite its gestation during World War I the music lacks any significant sounds of deep anxiety. The opening movement is forceful, though perhaps a little over-extended, and abounds in big tunes one of which bears a striking resemblance to a similar melody in Ernest Chausson’s Symphony in B flat major. The rollicking scherzo might remind the listener of Litolff’s famous scherzo from his Concerto Symphonique No. 4 but it is pure delight. The slow movement marked adagio non troppo is haunting and the work’s crowning section. Here is where Elgar’s spirit looms large. The music is none the worse for it as its elegiac beauty demanded repeated hearings from this listener. The last movement returns to the sound-world of the first movement and moves inexorably towards a grand climax that ought to bring any audience to its feet. In short, I enjoyed this work enormously and would put it on any list of most satisfying revivals of forgotten works. For those who have given Anthony Payne’s elaboration of the sketches of Elgar’s Third Symphony such a warm reception, here is another work that they will truly savor.
If the Dunhill Symphony were not enough to make this CD an indispensable acquisition for any lover of British orchestral music, the second work included here only makes it more so. Richard Arnell who this year celebrated his ninetieth birthday has been going through a renaissance of his own mainly thanks to this same Dutton Epoch label responsible for this current CD. Having previously released in the last two years 4 of his 6 numbered Symphonies (the remaining 2 are surely on the way?) as well as his Piano Concerto and New Age Overture, Dutton Epoch now treats us to his Symphonic Portrait "Lord Byron." This is in marked contrast to the entire LP era when Arnell’s sizable output for orchestra was represented only by Beecham’s 1950 recording of the ballet suite "Punch and the Child" and the 1958 composer-conducted recording of another ballet suite "The Great Detective."
Like Dunhill two generations before him, Arnell was born in London and studied at the Royal College of Music. His composition teacher was John Ireland who, again like Dunhill, was a student of Stanford. He spent a number of years in America where his music was championed by Bernard Herrmann and other conductors and a number of his major works received performances. Back in England after World War II, Beecham became a patron as well but Arnell’s prominence eventually faded when composers of his tonal ilk were consigned to near-oblivion by the musical fashion-police.
Those familiar with Arnell’s expansive post-romantic/conservative modern idiom will find much to enjoy in "Lord Byron". Written in 1952, the work was commissioned and first performed by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It plays without a break for more than 21 minutes but is divided into eight distinct sections that highlight six episodes in the poet’s life girded by a prelude and an epilogue. This very descriptive music ranges from gentle to soaring and is a delight from beginning to end.
To sum up, this is a marvelous CD filled with two stunning recording firsts of important works by composers of two different eras that are lovingly performed, superbly recorded and skillfully and comprehensively annotated by Lewis Foreman.
-- Mike Herman, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Symphony in A major, Op. 48 by Thomas Dunhill
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Lord Byron, Op. 67 by Richard Arnell
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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