Arnell Symphony No 7; Bate, S Symphony No 4

Yet another spectacular rescueact in the finest Dutton tradition

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach

Arnell Symphony No 7; Bate, S Symphony No 4

  • Symphony No 4
  • Symphony No 7, 'Mandela'

Stanley Bate’s imposing Third Symphony (1940) was one of my most rewarding discoveries of last year (4/10). Now comes its scarcely less powerful successor, completed in October 1955 and premiered the following month by the LPO (which commissioned it) under Sir Adrian Boult. Cast in four movements and lasting some 37 minutes, it’s a grippingly argued utterance, full of durable invention, compellingly paced and sharing something of the dark-hued, epic countenance of Vaughan Williams’s Sixth and Shostakovich’s Tenth, as well as the second symphonies of William Wordsworth, William Alwyn and David Diamond. Echoes of Rubbra and Havergal Brian are also present, though don’t let my reactions fool you into thinking that Bate’s music lacks anything in strength of conviction or personality; quite the contrary, in fact, for it grows in my estimation each time I return to it. The scoring, too, is unfailingly well judged, with some particularly rewarding writing for principal flute. A notable find, in sum, and a work to make one hope that Dutton continues its exploration of this underrated figure’s extensive output.

The substantial coupling comprises conductor Martin Yates’s splendidly involving completion of the sketches for Richard Arnell’s Seventh Symphony, upon which the octogenarian composer worked between 1996 and 2005 until his eyesight and hearing began to fail him. Originally conceived as an 80th-birthday tribute to Nelson Mandela, and laid out for large orchestra (including two sets of timpani), it’s a big-hearted statement, often angular and not afraid of embracing dissonance, yet culminating in a disarmingly simple “big tune” of which Arnell’s good friend Malcolm Arnold would have been proud. The central Andante serioso, by turns serene and defiant, is especially impressive in its sustained intensity, while the finale generates something of the lump-in-the-throat spectacle of Walton’s film music (and the thunderous tutti around five minutes in irresistibly calls to mind the shattering apex of the latter’s First Symphony).

In both works, the RSNO responds with heaps of spirit and commendable polish for Martin Yates, and the sound is immensely realistic to match. This bold and generous pairing merits an enthusiastic recommendation.

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