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.
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.
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!
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
Tenderness gives way to tentativeness, but fear not: rescue is at
hand . . .
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
29, Carr Street,
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