Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Great Detective. The Angels
Martin Yates, cond; BBC Concert O
DUTTON 7208 (66:17)
After returning to Great Britain in 1947, Richard Arnell became very active on the composing scene. The 1950s saw a succession of new works, including his String Quartet No. 4, Symphony No. 5,
Concerto capriccioso, Landscape and Figures
, the Piano Suite in D Minor, the
for piano—and three
ballets. The first, not included on this release, was premiered by the Sadler’s Wells ballet company in 1951, and bears the intriguing title
Harlequin in April. The Great Detective
appeared two years later. To anyone in the English-speaking world, the detective in question would obviously be Sherlock Holmes. This tongue-in-cheek work referred to Doyle’s creations abstractly, however, so that Holmes became The Detective, Moriarty turned into The Fiend, and Dr. Watson became The Doctor. Though the critics panned elements of the production other than its score, audiences were delighted.
Arnell’s score comprised a series of discreet dances, employing the rich orchestral palette he’d delivered during his American years. The pieces have a musical weight that brings to mind Prokofiev, whose influence can also be felt in some of the numbers. The
pas de trois
“Distress Ladies and Doctor” might just as well be called “Prokofiev meets Moross,” for example, while some phrases in “Police and the Doctor” recall the Soviet master at his most mock genteel. There are several excellent tunes in
The Great Detective
, though the ending is curiously abrupt and underplayed.
The third ballet Arnell wrote for Sadler’s Wells was
, first seen in 1957. His synopsis, printed in Lewis Foreman’s excellent liner notes, is tantalizingly brief. In the first of three movements, an angel, a figure of light, “reveals the characteristics of her creation.” “She brings men and women together in the ebb and flow of life,” goes the second movement. In the third, she chooses one figure from the mass of striving humanity to become immortal. Yet the score is full of incident, and far more symphonic in nature than its album companion is. The references to “movements” is literally Arnell’s, the first being an introduction, theme, and eight variations, the second, a 14-minute “roundelay,” and the third, a six-minute fast “finale” and soberly majestic “transformation.” While I’m intrigued as to how all this would be staged, the absence of visuals doesn’t matter to me as it does in
The Great Detective. The Angels
stands very well on its own after many repeated listenings. Even Arnell himself excerpted the roundelay for separate issue on a Pye recording he conducted, and which I’ve had in my LP collection for some time.
It has done splendid service, but it’s time to retire that disc. Yates, whom I referred to in a CD (Dutton 7195) that featured Arnell’s symphonic portrait
and Dunhill’s Symphony in A Minor as “solid but methodical” and “without the sweep or passion in music that requires it,” here acquits himself very well, indeed. Perhaps he meshes better with the BBC Concert Orchestra than the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, or possibly they had more rehearsal time, or the works were simply easier to manage than heavier fare. Whatever the reason, there’s no lack of energy and swagger here, and no episodes of ragged ensemble and cloudy textures, as in the CD featuring Arnell’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (Dutton 7194). Yates and his musicians have the full measure of both works, and Dutton provides a fine, spacious, and colorful audio environment for the record, too. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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