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Richard ARNELL (b. 1917)
Symphony no.3 op.40 (1944-45) [62:07]
The New Age – Overture op.2 (1939) [9:38]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. Glasgow, 4-5 September 2005
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7161 [72:10]

This is the first CD ever devoted to Richard Arnell’s orchestral music. Dutton have tackled the challenge head-on with a truly epic symphony of a scale similar to that of the recently released Tovey Symphony (Toccata - review). This is however in a style quite different from the Tovey: a massive six movement wartime symphony. As such it can be loosely grouped with other British symphonies of that time: Hubert Clifford, Arthur Benjamin, RVW6 and Stanley Bate 3; how long before this is recorded! It is a resoundingly confident piece of work rejoicing in turbulence and alive with voices some of which pre-date the work and some of which were yet to come. Who knows how many of the pre-date 'voices' had actually been heard by Arnell. In a way it hardly matters but to help those unfamiliar with the work and considering whether or not to buy let me mention a few. Nielsen is certainly one voice: especially in the Fifth Symphony. Sibelius may also be heard as an influence especially in the creeping manic writing for rustling strings. Other voices include Bax (slightly - from the Fifth Symphony), Alwyn (symphonies 1 and 4), Lilburn and Randall Thompson. The impressively tension-inducing first movement is remarkable for its gaunt jagged trumpet fanfares and superb contrasts between dynamics and the extremes of the scale - some wonderful tangy deep bass work for the contrabassoon. Both the Presto and the Finale recall in their stomping energy - part de Falla and part Shostakovich - the spectacular finale of Arnell’s Fifth Symphony and also of Alwyn’s Fourth - lying way in the future. The Fifth was wonderfully put across by John Carewe conducting the BBC NSO on 1 July 1977. Time and again the Third rises to vital and noble heights. The brief andante maestoso introduction to the Allegro finale sings in the 1940s manner of William Schuman but also with the epic spirit of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica. That final allegro is also suffused with the wartime ruggedness of Copland Symphony No. 3. The RSNO sound glorious especially their impressive brass section.

The Arnell Third Symphony was written in New York where the composer had been stranded by the onset of the Second World War. I sincerely hope that with the verve and no holds barred commitment brought to this work by Martin Yates and the RSNO that they will soon tackle the remaining Arnell symphonies; the Fifth next please. The Third really is a most impressive work of epic symphonic weight, circumstance and moment. If you doubt me try the last five minutes of the finale.

The New Age overture is from the year in which the war started, a war that was to result in the death of Arnell’s mother in the London Blitz in 1942. It is a peppy affair with some gaunt overtones typical of the times including his trademark thunderously brassy stomping and a proclivity for the artful and provocative building of tension and anxiety. This and no doubt other Arnell overtures could share concert overture programmes with Copland’s Outdoor Overture, Diamond’s Tempest overture and Schuman’s American Festival just as easily as they could with Rawsthorne’s Street Corner and Cortège, Moeran’s Overture to a Masque, Alwyn’s Derby Day, Geoffrey Bush’s Yorick and Ferguson’s Overture to an Occasion.

These two works promise and deliver much. I am quite sure there are yet more discoveries aplenty to be made in the Arnell catalogue.

Rob Barnett

See also reviews of Arnell’s Punch and the Child by Rob Barnett Jonathan Woolf

Arnell articles
Richard Arnell at 88 by Susan Roberts
Richard Arnell: A personal tribute by David Wright



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