Arne Six Favourite Concertos
Arne's ''Six Favourite Concertos'' for organ, harpsichord or fortepiano were published in 1793, 15 years after the composer's death. They seem to have been written at different times in his life though we know that Arne's son, Michael, performed one of the concertos at least, in 1750. Though retaining fundamental aspects of baroque form the idiom of these charming pieces is distinctly galant: only one of them, No. 5 in G minor, omits a dance from the sequence of movements.
An existing recording of these six concertos with Roger Bevan Williams and Cantilena under the direction of Adrian Shepherd uses an organ in each work (Chandos). In the new set, by contrast, the soloist Paul Nicholson rings the changes between the three instruments itemized in the 1793 edition ''To all Ladies and Gentlemen, performers on the Organ, Harpsichord, or Piano e Forte''. I have enjoyed the variously coloured fruits of this decision while still believing that Arne perhaps had the organ foremost in his mind. Nicholson is a stylish player and his fingerwork nimble, but what I especially like about his approach to this music is his suppleness of rhythm, his seemingly intuitive feeling for cogent punctuation. In days gone by this admirable elasticity might even have been termed unsteady by hard-liners but it is this, above all, which breathes life into the music and turns unpunctuated speech into elegant oratory. The music of these works is very far from being repetitive or predictable and Arne is never afraid to take the listener by surprise. Each of the Concertos is scored for keyboard solo with two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo yet, in a striking, almost startlingly unexpected way he introduces two trumpets, two horns and timpani at the end of the concluding Minuet with variations of the first concerto of the set. Elsewhere Arne beguiles the senses with his richly inventive melodic gift, sometimes creating a distinct and unmistakable Handelian echo as in the gigue finale of the Second Concerto. My own favourite is the captivating Minuet of the Fourth Concerto.
For the most part Nicholson is securely and sympathetically supported by The Parley of Instruments led by Andrew Manze. Yet I was not always sure that Nicholson's communication with the band was as clear as it needed to be. Some of the ornamentation is a shade untidy and, as in the finale of the Concerto No. 3, there are patches of unrefined string playing in the upper parts. But this is an enjoyable disc which should afford plenty of enjoyment. And Nicholson's brisker tempos have enabled Hyperion to accommodate the set on a single disc. Clear but slightly over-reverberant acoustic. Buy it!'