Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 4; No. 5,
Warren Cohen, cond; MusicaNova O
CON BRIO 27452 (64:50)
There exists a vast and incalculably rich, yet still largely untapped, vein of music by 20th-century English composers; and until fairly recently, it has been the Brits themselves who have shown little interest in or enthusiasm for mining these reserves. I am not referring here to the likes of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, and a host of others who have achieved widespread
recognition, but to those who have fallen between the cracks: Edgar Bainton, Rutland Boughton, York Bowen, William Busch, the two Bushes—Alan and Geoffrey, Arnold Cooke, Peter Racine Fricker, John Gardner, Alan Hoddinott, William Hurlstone, Gordon Jacob, Kenneth Leighton, Leighton Lucas, Montague Fawcett Phillips, Humphrey Procter-Gregg, Cyril Rootham, Cyril Scott, Robert Simpson,William Wordsworth, and, saving the present for last, Richard Arnell.
This roll call is by no means exhaustive; nor does it touch upon the many British composers who were active in the so-called “light music” genre. Neither is this list a mere rattling off of names culled from a compilation found in some music encyclopedia. Each of these composers is in fact represented on at least one CD I have in my collection, many on the Dutton and Lyrita labels; and while some of them I care for more than others, all share the distinction of having written “serious” music—symphonies, concertos, and chamber works—as opposed to “light” music, though in some cases both, and all have shared a similar fate of unwarranted neglect. A recent acquisition on the latter label, a cello concerto by William Busch, comes close to rivaling the Elgar in emotional intensity.
Ninety-one at the time of this writing, Richard Arnell was born in Hampstead in 1917. Between 1935 and 1939, he studied at London’s Royal College of Music, where his composition teacher was John Ireland. Visiting New York when WW II broke out, Arnell remained stateside until 1947, serving as music supervisor for the BBC in North America. While in the U.S., he was commissioned to write a number of works, including a film score for
, a documentary sponsored by the Department of Agriculture to celebrate the American farmer, and a symphonic suite funded by the Ford Motor Company as a tribute to its dedicated workers. Those days are gone.
Arnell’s sizeable and diverse output has been barely tapped by the recording industry. Of his six symphonies, tone poems, concertos, numerous chamber, stage, and vocal works, operas, ballets, and film scores, only a smattering has found its way onto disc. I’d like to be able to say that the current release expands the repertoire of Arnell’s music available to us, and/or that it makes the strongest case possible for these works. Unfortunately, I can’t say either; for the two symphonies on offer here—Nos. 4 and 5—are duplicated on a recent Dutton CD reviewed by Barry Brenesal in 31:5. That recording, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Martin Yates (which I acquired on Barry’s recommendation), surpasses the current release performance-wise and in recorded sound. The MusicaNova (without space or hyphen) Orchestra was formed only as recently as 2003; and while their effort is a fine one, they are not yet quite in league with the more seasoned, assured, and polished RSNO. The recording also disadvantages the ensemble by distancing the stage perspective, producing the aural equivalent of listening through the wrong end of the binoculars; though in fairness, Brenesal found the Dutton sound rather unfocused as well.
Lest the music be forgotten, it is simply gorgeous. Arnell, like the aforementioned “neglecteds,” is unabashedly tonal, and succeeds only in outward appearance, and then only occasionally, in disguising his deep Romantic roots. Listen, for example, to the closing Lento section of the Fifth Symphony’s second movement. The forlorn exchange between the English and French horn (or is it a trombone? The recording makes it hard to discern, and I don’t have the score) reminded me of the oboe and English horn calling to each other in Berlioz’s
Brenesal hears in Arnell’s 1948 Fourth Symphony echoes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, in particular the latter composer’s Fifth Symphony. The influence, Brenesal maintains, carries into Arnell’s Fifth Symphony (1955–57) as well, but in a more sublimated way. I, too, hear some of this, so I would not take exception to it; but in a larger context I hear in both of these works Arnell’s strong connection to the orchestral palette and the melodic and harmonic modalism of Vaughan Williams. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you love VW’s symphonies, Arnell’s are a somewhat later extension of a style you are bound to appreciate.
Both symphonies are three-movement affairs that, even on a first hearing, reveal their reinforced-steel structural unity. Listen to the gripping progress of the Fourth Symphony’s first movement in its buildup to the magnificent striding climax at around 9:37, a fanfare fit for the coronation of a king. Its arrival is so logical, right, and perfectly timed that we should have expected it from the beginning; yet it still takes the breath away. Only a Brit could have written this.
I lament that this new release, recorded at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tempe, Arizona, in 2005 could not have given us something from Arnell’s catalog that wasn’t duplicated elsewhere; but in looking at the respective dates of the recordings, I realize that this complaint is without merit, for it is the Dutton CD, recorded in 2007, that is the copycat. Warren Cohen and MusicaNova can claim first rights. Either way, I cannot urge you too strongly to acquire one or the other of these discs, for Arnell’s music is a glorious experience not to be missed.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
“Cohen conveys the natural pulse of the music whether in syncopated exertion, benign sanguine reflection or the uproar of conflict (Symphony 4) and celebration (Symphony 5).” -- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International [5/2008]
“This CD is a fine independent project coming out a collaboration between a small California record label and the founder and conductor of the MusicaNova Orchestra of Scottsdale, AZ... Sonics on the recording are excellent, and the MusicaNova Orchestra plays like a highly professional aggregation.” -- John Sunier, Audiophile Audition [5/17/2008]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4, Op. 52 by Richard Arnell
Period: 20th Century
Length: 25 Minutes 45 Secs.
Symphony no 5, Op. 77 "The Gorilla" by Richard Arnell
Period: 20th Century
Length: 38 Minutes 20 Secs.
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