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Arwel HUGHES (1909–1988)
Prelude for orchestra (1945) [13:26]
Owain Glyndwr, legend (1979) [12:43]
Serch yw’r Doctor (Love’s the Doctor) - Overture to the opera (1960) [4:57]
Suite for Orchestra (1947) [22:20]
Anatiomaros (1943) [11:09]
Menna, prelude to the opera (1954) [8:06]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
rec. April 2009, Cadogan Hall, London
BIS BIS-CD-1674 [74:22]

Experience Classicsonline

Arwel Hughes, the father of conductor Owain Arwel Hughes, was for many years, BBC Wales director of music and central to the principality's music-making. He made a sustained and positive difference to the music and careers of many including Grace Williams, Daniel Jones (still awaiting a symphonic cycle taking in all thirteen of his symphonies), Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias. He was born not far from Wrexham at Rhosllanerchrugog and studied at London's RCM with RVW, Holst and Gordon Jacob. He was in the same intake as Britten.

The thorough and concentrated liner-notes by Geraint Lewis tell us that the works here represent Hughes’ orchestral output minus only the 1971 symphony (he was working on a second symphony when death intervened - perhaps the composer's son here could realise a completion?) and the Tallis Fantasia-indebted 1936 Fantasia for Strings. The symphony was broadcast by the BBC in the 1980s in a performance conducted by Bryden Thomson.

The bustling and fantastically varied Prelude for orchestra is cheery, touching and flightily poetic. Rather like the early orchestral works of Aloys Fleischmann it harbours a soothingly romantic yearning somewhat in the manners of Sibelius, Moeran and Hadley. It ends, perhaps rather perfunctorily, with a burst of exuberance where Arwel Hughes recalls that the work’s dedication is to “The Youth of Wales”.

Of about the same duration is Owain Glyndwr - legend for orchestra. The subject is Wales' national hero of the thirteenth century. The same figure stirred Grace Williams' first symphony of that name (let's hear the whole thing if it survives, please - surely a cogent coupling for Arwel Hughes much later Symphony and earlier Fantasia). It is his last completed work - full of turbulent activity and atmosphere though lacking the green innocence and poetic credentials of the Prelude. It was broadcast by the BBC in 1985.

The fluttery and verdantly lively overture to Love's the Doctor (Serch yw'r Doctor) comes and goes in less than five minutes. It parallels Barber's School for Scandal overture in mood and reach.

After the generic title Prelude we have a three movement Suite moving in much the same mood-landscape. It was to be his last orchestral work for two decades. Its three movements take in countryside romance and oxygenated energy. They mix elements typical of Moeran with a Waltonian zip and zest. The second movement sounds a little like a Bliss ballet score but soon morphs into a graceful dance. The third and last has a grander and even tragic signature with a wraith of fugal Bliss at 2.10, the perky irrepressible spirit of a Malcolm Arnold and the cool smoothness of Aloys Fleischmann from just the other side of the Irish sea.

Anatiomaros is the name in the old Brythonic tongue for Great Soul. The music swells to portray some pre-Christian rite in which Anatiomaros - the revered elder who is the repository of wisdom and eternity - is to die. Death is portrayed as a dazzling white swan. The spirits of Bax and Moeran arch over this work with its long melodic reach. Its only weakness is to be found in what seems to have been a predilection for fugal patterning also heard in the finale of the Suite. Otherwise it's very approachable. Lewis refers to its Sibelian Kalevala echoes which are certainly present. I also thought of another Celt: Hamilton Harty and his With the Wild Geese though the Arwel Hughes work is less Tchaikovskian and more in touch with the vibrant vein of twentieth century pastoral romance.

Last on the disc is the Prelude to the opera Menna from 1954. It begins portentously with growling aggression from the drums. This makes way for an invincible pastoral melody carried and spun on seraphic violins. The melody might veer toward Rodrigo territory but it is very effective indeed. It also recalls the same ineffably poignant melody to be heard in Constant Lambert's Music for Orchestra. The mix becomes richer with some chivalric brass and all ends in suitable finery. This is the most immediately captivating of the orchestral works here.

Of the other major Arwel Hughes works available on disc we must not forget the Chandos CD (CHAN 8890) of the cantata Dewi Sant (St David) (1950). It was written for the Festival of Britain and premiered by the Pontardulais Choral Society in St David’s Cathedral on 12 July 1951. The work was broadcast by the BBC in 1973. Of the other large-compass oratorios Lewis mentions Pantycelin (1963) but it seems we should not neglect Tydi a Roddaist (1938), Gweddi (1944), Mass for Celebration (1977) and Gloria Patri (1986). There are also two operas Menna and Serch yw'r Doctor whose overtures feature here not to mention three string quartets from 1948, 1976 and 1983.

If there is a Cambrian folk aspect to any of the music on this disc it must be deeply subsumed. I do not detect any heart-on-sleeve use of traditional songs. What is clear is that this is the work of a most accomplished modern romantic-nationalist.

Rob Barnett











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