ARNOLD Overtures – Gamba
Concerts are notoriously short these days, too often with only a pair of works and seldom an overture. I notice that Arnold’s Grand, Grand Festival Overture is scheduled for a Hallé Orchestra Summer Prom, so audiences are in for a treat: they will love the four vacuum cleaners and the floor polisher in this contribution to a 1956 Gerard Hoffnung festival. But this piece is memorable not only for its high spirits; it has a really good tune, too.
Arnold’s genius was particularly suited to small-scale orchestral works and every one of these examples shows his orchestral personality at its exuberant best. Beckus the Dandipratt came first, in 1943, a portrait which has the wit of Strauss’s Till and the harum-scarum quality of Walton’s Scapino. The composer’s standing was to be reinforced a decade later by Tam O’Shanter, a brilliantly droll portrayal, drawing on the Burns poem with a spectacular climax bringing an orchestral realisation of bagpipes. There is another memorable tune in the vivid Peterloo, which is more of a Lisztian tone-poem.
The other works bring inventiveness and similarly brilliant scoring. The brief Anniversary Overture was for a Hong Kong fireworks spectacular, while The Smoke brings a sultry atmosphere in its middle section. The Fair Field celebrates the Croydon Concert Hall (with its superb acoustics), A Sussex Overture is jauntily characteristic, while the Orchestral Flourish, not surprisingly, brings resplendent brass. The lively Robert Kett Overture is a recording premiere. All are most entertaining, and marvellously played; you’ll be glad to know that the ‘players’ of the vacuum cleaners and the floor polisher get a credit. The Chandos recording is of the demonstration class.
Arnold is not highly regarded by the musical establishment – he gets barely a page in The New Grove – but his day will come!