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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]

 

 

It’s been a pleasant hour and a quarter getting to know Samuel Arnold, whom history has otherwise cast into near oblivion. There are other reviews on site of this invigorating disc and they delve into Arnold’s biography in some detail so I shan’t replicate the shilling facts here.

Arnold was a generation younger than William Boyce and John Stanley, almost exact contemporaries, whose Handelian affiliations were more pronounced than in the younger man’s music. And whilst it can’t really be argued that there is anything in Arnold’s music so arresting as the symphonies of Boyce or the organ concertos of Stanley – both were after all composers of the first order – Arnold does display some gallant gestures in his Overtures and these are greatly enjoyable.

His ear was certainly attuned to the developments on the Continent and to the music of J.C. Bach in particular. His muse is buoyant but concise, nicely scaled for outdoor performance in Marylebone Gardens. There are some Mozartian hints in the central movement of the first overture – I scribbled down Symphony No. 29 but looking up the respective dates I see that that followed three years after the publication of Arnold’s set. Still, there is certainly a generalized awareness of his music that makes itself evident from time to time and that represents its most contemporaneous cast. Elsewhere it’s a question of elegance and a certain taciturnity of expression in the slow movements, a decorous suavity. In the slow movement of the F major for instance he makes do with strings alone.

One can certainly feel the whoosh of the Mannheim Crescendo in the opening Allegro of the D major [Op.8 No.4] and in passing also note admiration for the performers’ well-sprung diminuendi on the repeated phrase of the slow movement of the first D major overture in the set - there are three in that key. Care over dynamics is an attractive feature of the performance by the modern instrument Toronto Chamber Orchestra, though as the notes relate they are versed in historical practice performance even if they don’t don the mantle instrumentally themselves.

The incidental music to Macbeth taps a vein of Scottishry that pleases whilst never quite impressing. Handel stalks the March with its vigorous percussion and there’s a Scotch Snap in the Music before the Play – Birks of Invermay. There’s eventful wind writing and rhythmic pointing throughout – specifically pipe imitation - should you be a fan - in The Braes of Ballenden. The warmth of the writing here and elsewhere makes one wonder as to what kind of bowdlerised production was being performed.  For the overture to the opera Polly Arnold stitched thirteen tunes together, balanced with musical appositeness and care, to create a charming pot-pourri of the pleasures to come.

Mallon is more incisive with his Toronto forces than he was in the last of his discs I caught, his Boyce Symphonies, where the recording venue may have contributed to a certain reticence. Here there is plenty of thrust and counter-thrust with a recording to match. Clearly these are no epoch thundering masterpieces but their reclamation from the shelves is to be admired, and Arnold’s place in the scheme of things in English music-making of the time is thereby made more secure. Excellent notes.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Reviews by Glyn Pursglove and John France

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