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.
British Symphonic Collection