Arnold Orchestral Dances

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

Arnold Orchestral Dances

  • (4) Cornish Dances
  • (4) English Dances
  • (4) English Dances
  • (4) Scottish Dances
  • (4) Irish Dances
  • Solitaire

The late Trevor Harvey gave a warm and well-deserved welcome to the English, Scottish and Cornish Dances, when these recordings, conducted by the composer, first appeared. Now with Arnold's latest set of Irish Dances added, as well as the two movements which were written to go with the two sets of English Dances as the ballet, Solitaire, it is even more of a winner. It is even more compelling than the very recent Chandos issue of the same coupling from Bryden Thomson and the Philharmonia. Arnold regularly takes a broader, more warmly expressive view without ever sacrificing tension, often springing rhythms more infectiously. Some of the contracts are extreme, as for example in the first of the Irish Dances, where Arnold's speed is twice as slow as Thomson's. Both performances are effective, but the piece is totally different. The analogue sound on the Lyrita issue is given a splendid transfer. It is less analytical than the Chandos, but with plenty of presence it is just as full and brilliant. The new items, in digital sound, very well recorded too, bring no feeling of inconsistency.
Best-known of all—largely as the signature tune to the programme, ''What the papers say''—is the first of the second set of English Dances with its jaunty piccolo theme, but one after another these little jewels first grab and then delight the ear with their brilliant pastiche of folk melodies. Trevor Harvey's favourite set, as he said, was the least played, the Cornish Dances, and I am inclined to agree. There in tribute to Arnold's years as a Cornish resident, the colour and vigour which mark all these dances goes further towards deeper emotions, notably in the second dance with its melancholy chromatic melody, representing the deserted engine house of a tin mine. That leads in the third dance to what can only be described as the sublimation of a Salvation Army band, with a Moody and Sankey-style hymn rising in thrilling crescendo. Arnold's speed, much slower than Thomson's, makes the piece far more powerful, but sadly the CD titling includes a serious error, reversing the meaning by omitting the ''senza'' from the description sempre senza parodia, ''always without parody''. Arnold's heartfelt reading confirms the underlying seriousness.
The new set of Irish Dances, written in 1986, opens with a rumbustious movement very much in the style of the earlier sets, with characteristic and attractive syncopations, but the other three dances are both sparer in instrumentation and darker in tone, effectively so. The two movements from Solitaire—which are included on the record after the two sets of English Dances, not in the ballet order—are equally valuable, particularly the superb, coolly atmospheric ''Sarabande'', the longest and most ambitious movement of any here, again made weightier by Arnold's slower speed. Even if you don't want to play all 22 items at one go—and that is no penance at all—this is a wonderful box of delights.'

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