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Arnold (1921-) - Philharmonic Concerto

As a fresh-faced teenager Arnold became a trumpeter in the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  Apart from one unfortunate brush with army life, there he stayed until 1948. Taking his courage  in both hands he left the orchestra in which he had honed his formidable array of technical skills.  The beckoning carrot was the burgeoning post-war British film industry, the ideal environment  in which a composer of his quick capabilities might earn a decent crust - and still have elbow  room to write music on his own account. Coincidentally, the following year he wrote the first of  his two String Quartets

Twenty-eight years passed. He earned his crust, sometimes got paid for music he wrote on his  own account (which can't be bad!), and often wrote pieces as gifts for performing friends. Arnold  found in the bicentenary of the American War of Independence an opportunity to kill two birds  with one stone. As one who (a) seems to have always harboured sympathy for the down-trodden  and put-upon and (b) doesn't forget his debts to his friends, he could write an occasional piece  for his “Alma Mater”, the LPO, to take on their tour of the USA in that auspicious year - and to  celebrate Freedom “with as much brilliance as I am able to muster”. Coincidentally, the following  year he wrote the second of his two String Quartets

1. Intrada: screams into life in a frenzied flurry of jazzy syncopations, like the “intro” to some  Broadway show-stopper. Yet the main theme sounds strained, struggling to make headway.  The scenario that unfolds is of the “old”, oppressed theme finding the freedom to express  itself fully through the infectious vitality of the “new” jazzy gestures, soon reinforced by a  minor battery of Latin-American percussion. The turning-point, if there can be said to be one, is where the theme appears on harp bolstered by some helpful tomtoms. From there,  the only way out is up - and the ending is just about as “up” as you can get! 

2. Aria: tells a similar story. The theme at first cuts a very sad and lonely figure, severely  constrained. As the variations progress, it is transformed into a meltingly sweet Arnold  “special” (memories of The Ugly Duckling?), a film theme in all but name, even down to the  soupy woodwind interjections! The path of true love, though, is not entirely smooth - what  do you make of the passage for solo trombone over trilling strings: is it a resonance of  Shostakovich's Eleventh?  Tenderness gives way to tentativeness, but fear not: rescue is at  hand . . . 

3. Chacony: . . . as the cavalry arrive! The finale sets off fit to bust in a blaze of deep brass and pounding drums.This is Arnold's impression of the finale of Brahms' Fourth caught in  the neon glare of the New World, variational inventiveness vying with surging energy. The  music charges on like a transcontintental truck riding the rolling freeway, utterly  unstoppable - until it finishes, even fitter to bust than when it started. If you're going to  have an orchestra show its mettle, this must be the way to do it!

© Paul Serotsky
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