Richard ARNELL (1917-2009)
The Unnumbered Symphonies
Overture 1940 op.6 [13:58]
Sinfonia (1938) (ed. Martin Yates 2012) [25:17]
Dagenham Symphony - Suite from the film Opus 65 (1952) [15:54]
Landscapes and Figures op.78 (1956) [17:14]
Alun Darbyshire (guest principal oboe: Sinfonia); Catherine Edwards (piano: Dagenham, Landscapes)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
World première recordings
rec. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 20-21 August 2012
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7299 [78:20]
Arnell looms large in the Dutton catalogue. The beneficent shadow cast by that long list of discs presents the lion’s share of Arnell’s orchestral catalogue … and surely more to come.
The Overture 1940 is given a suitably tense outing. The clouded atmosphere reminded me of Stanley Bate’s contemporaneous wartime Third Symphony but with restlessly, athletically positive incursions having Finzian and Waltonian accents. This piece has a symphonic mien but ends in a trickle rather than an affirmative shudder. The 1938 Sinfonia is in effect his ‘Symphony No.0’ and was long thought lost. Arnell’s daughter found the score among the estate of her late mother in Nebraska. Martin Yates edited it for performance. It’s another troubled work written in troubled times. It has more calm than the Overture but the winter waters evoked by the Lento are cold and in shade. Alun Darbyshire is guest principal oboe. He plays a prominent and gracious part in the Andante sostenuto which once again has a Finzian lilt, blended with a chilly breeze that suggests more than temperature. The work ends with a bracing Allegro vivace but not one without scudding black clouds. The six- movement Dagenham Symphony was, unsurprisingly, a Ford commission for a film showcasing the company’s Dagenham plant. It is boisterous and brilliant with a part for solo piano here played by Catherine Edwards but taken by Arnell himself in the film. His years in the USA show in that one hears little echoes of Roy Harris throughout. The final Assembly March movement is playful and serious yet with an undercurrent of optimism.
Landscapes and Figures - a tone poem - again has Catherine Edwards at the piano. This work is in eight quite short movements, each of which has a piano solo introduction. For all of its later date the mood remains earnest and at times racked with striving and pain even if some of the string writing hints at RVW in tempestuous and seraphic moods. We know that Bernard Herrmann befriended and championed Arnell during his USA years. One can discern Herrmann’s hand in the brass writing in The Quarry. The piano foreword to Self Portrait (tr. 18) at first recalls the radio telescope music from the score Herrmann wrote for The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is overall an utterly enigmatic piece. In its piano solo writing the music hints at the ritual writing of Ireland (Forgotten Rite) and Bax (Symphonic Variations) yet in the penultimate Heirloom movement it goes all gooey and sentimental. In The Apotheosis - A Primitive the writing is lithe, lean and exuberant in a way that reminds me of Howard Ferguson’s Overture for an Occasion yet with the buoyant optimism of Roy Harris woven in. Rather like the overture I felt that the piece ended dutifully rather than with anything like logical compulsion. 
The documentation is by Lewis Foreman so you know that it is good at every level and in this case is also generously full.
Dutton’s Arnell pages are packed tight: the string quartets, symphonies 1 and 6 (CDLX7217), symphonies 2, 4 and 5, symphony No. 3, symphony 7 (CDLX7255), the Robert Flaherty Impression and the Byron symphonic portrait, which was written within the same period as Alan Bush’s as yet unrecorded Byron Symphony. There are two violin concertos as well: there’s the one-movement work from 1940 (review) and the Concerto Capriccioso on CDLX7227. Plenty to delve into if Arnell catches your imagination - as well he might.
The present disc has a rewarding programme. It helps us once again to re-set our musical and historical compasses while at the same time providing stimulating musical experiences.
Rob Barnett 

Re-setting musical and historical compasses while at the same time providing stimulating musical experiences. 

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