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Samuel ARNOLD(1740-1802)
Overture in B flat major Op.8 No.1 (1771) [8:39]
Overture in D major Op.8 No.2 (1771) [6:37]
Overture in F major Op.8 No.3 (1771) [9:44]
Overture in D major Op.8 No.4 (1771) [7:25]
Overture in G major Op.8 No.5 (1771) [9:46]
Overture in D major Op.8 No.6 (1771) [10:41]
Macbeth: Incidental Music (1778) [18:15]
Polly (Opera) – Overture (1777) [5:20]
Toronto Camerata/Kevin Mallon
rec. Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, Canada, 5-8 January 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557484 [76:27]

First of all let’s just put Samuel Arnold into context. He was born in 1740 in London. That same year J.S. Bach and George Frederic Handel were both 55 years old. And when our composer died in 1802 Beethoven was aged 32 and had just finished his Second Symphony. So Samuel Arnold as an individual very definitely crossed the stylistic boundaries – from baroque to early romantic via classicism. Of course his music does not reflect this diversity. If we are looking for a reference point it would be the orchestral works of J.C Bach - The London Bach.

If we approach this CD in a structured way it will, I think, help us to understand and appreciate this relatively unknown composer. Please do not just bang the CD into the player and Go! My suggestion is to begin with the incidental music for the ‘Scottish Play’. This score was composed for the George Colman production at the Little Theatre in Haymarket on 7 September 1778. It is a charming work that bases much of its material on Scottish folksong - both real and contrived. The lightness of the music does not really stress the depth of the Shakespearean Tragedy - it has more the feel of ‘Brigadoon’ than the death of Duncan and the guilt of Lady Macbeth. But as music it is a really excellent introduction to Samuel Arnold. There are some eight movements recorded here including such delights as The Yellow Haired Laddie, The Braes of Ballenden and the Earl of Douglas’ Lament. Strangely the incidental music suite ends with The Favourite March in Bonduca. This was actually a work by Henry Purcell subsequently arranged by Arnold.

Most people know of the ‘Beggar’s Opera’ – but I imagine that fewer have heard of Polly which is the sequel. Originally the music had ‘tunes harmonised by Johann Christoph Pepusch’ and a libretto by John Gay. However the 1779 production had an improved libretto and the music was revised, rescored and largely re-composed by Arnold. The opera is a story about a woman, Polly, who goes to live in the West Indies but chooses not to dwell with the colonists. She retires to the wilderness with her Indian husband. The opera explores the idea of rejection of the materialistic values of its day.

The Overture recorded here makes use of some thirteen tunes extracted from the opera. They are effectively used and combined to mould the material into a kind of sonata form. Altogether an attractive piece of music that both entertains and amuses –although I am not sure that I need to take time out to listen to a putative revival of the entire opera!

And last but not least turn to the six overtures. Arnold was best known for his stage works and operas; however these overtures are great examples of their genre. They were composed for the out of doors concerts at the Marylebone Gardens. These were pleasure gardens rather similar to those at Vauxhall which were the precursors of the Monday Pops and the Proms.

Each of the overtures has three movements exhibiting the standard ‘fast–slow-fast’ arrangement popular at the time. Typically the slow middle movement was played by strings alone. As noted above the reference point is J.C. Bach or perhaps the Mannheim School – however there is a certain English expansiveness about much of this music that gives it a unique flavour. There are obvious references to such bucolic pastimes as hunting! They can be listened to end to end whilst reading Samuel Johnson or chatting over a glass of porter. But this is to do them an injustice. Take one at a time and enjoy!

The sound quality is excellent, the programme notes by Robert Hoskins are extensive and the playing is beyond reproach. Altogether a fine CD that introduces the listener to virtually the entire corpus of surviving orchestral music by Samuel Arnold.

John France

 

 



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