> ARNOLD Rinaldo, Homage to the Queen etc [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Malcolm ARNOLD (born 1921)
Rinaldo and Armida Op.49 (1954)
Little Suite No.2 Op.78 (1962)
Homage to the Queen: Ballet Suite Op.42A (1953)
Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Op.47 (1954)
Ulrik Spang-Hanssen (organ); Royal Aarhus Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra; Douglas Bostock
Recorded: Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus and Gellerup Church, Aarhus, September and November 2001

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The Coronation ballet Homage to the Queen Op.42 was created by Frederick Ashton as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953. Originally, the ballet was to portray the four great queens in the history of Great Britain. However, the idea was dropped and the ballet was finally conceived as an allegory in which the four elements pay homage to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. An occasional work, as was Britten’s Gloriana written for the same occasion, Arnold’s ballet is nevertheless a substantial score full of typical Arnold hallmarks. It alternates moments of brilliance and of wistful tenderness, whereas the vividly atmospheric Prelude and the glorious final pageant are appropriately in the grand manner. The complete score was recorded in the early 1950s (a 12-inch Columbia LP, now re-issued on EMI CDM 5 66120-2) by the Philharmonia conducted by Robert Irving, while this is the first recording of the concert suite. Completists and dedicated Arnold fans will want to have the EMI release, but the much shorter suite gives a good idea of the quality of the music.

The Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Op.47, completed in 1954, is lesser-known than most other concertos that Arnold composed all through his career; and, hearing the present performance, one wonders why. As many other concertos by Arnold, it is scored for small forces, i.e. three trumpets (of which two trumpets in D), timpani and strings. Nevertheless the music inhabits Arnold’s very own sound world; and, in spite of some fleeting echoes of, say, Händel, the music is pure Arnold throughout, though in a much more restrained and understated way. This is no virtuoso concerto, but a beautifully poised piece of almost classical proportions, quite unique in Arnold’s output. A most welcome addition to his ever expanding discography.

The success of Homage to the Queen led to another ballet based on Tasso’s Rinaldo and Armida: While on their way to the Holy Land, Rinaldo and Gandolfo are lured into the sorceress Armida’s garden. Rinaldo and Armida fall in love, and Armida returns Rinaldo’s love although she knows that this will mean her death. After Armida’s death, a storm breaks out, and Rinaldo manages to escape with Gandolfo. The score of this short ballet is continuous; and, while recognisably Arnold throughout, the music is much more restrained, avoids grand gestures and is totally free from Arnold’s comedy elements often found in his music. This is a deeply serious piece of music and another welcome rarity that definitely deserves to be better known.

The Little Suite No.2 Op.78 (1962) is a much better-known and a most popular piece. Its three short, contrasted movements abound with Arnold’s fingerprints. Though originally composed with a youth orchestra in mind, the music is idiomatically and sympathetically written by a composer who has a deep understanding of the orchestra.

Douglas Bostock, who has already put us much in his debt for all his recordings of often unfamiliar British music, conducts vital, committed and carefully prepared readings of these unfamiliar scores. The Aarhus orchestra may not be a top-notch body of players, but they respond with enthusiasm and infectious zest. No Arnold fan will want to be without this most welcome release; but, make no mistake, others will find much to enjoy here.

Hubert Culot

The British Symphonic Collection

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