Martin Yates

Richard Arnell: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6 "The Anvil"; Sinfonia quasi Variazioni

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The revival of tonality has brought out of the woodwork a great many tonal orchestral works from the middle of the twentieth century. Britain had no shortage of these, and their composers each have their partisans. One of Richard Arnell's is conductor Martin Yates, who has committed a number of them to disc with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, which, it must be said, delivers fine, assertive performances. Arnell fell somewhat out of favor after 1950, and the weak points in his music may be inferred from the fact that John Barbirolli demanded cuts in one of his symphonies (not one of those performed here). But he kept composing prolifically, and the Symphony No. 6, "The Anvil," heard here dates from as late as 1994. It takes its name from a bona fide anvil that is sounded at the beginning of the introductory movement. Arnell continues to use a tonal idiom, but the work's textures, making varied use of a piano, are unusual, and the piece is refreshingly unusual in style. The point of its literary epigrams, however -- one of them is the question-and-answer "Must it be? Yes, it must!" from Beethoven's String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 -- is not clear. The earlier works date from the composer's sojourn in New York during World War II; he came to the U.S. to see the 1939 World's Fair and was stranded by the outbreak of World War II. In the Sinfonia quasi variazioni, Op. 13 (the title refers to the loosely cyclical construction of the work's five short movements), Arnell begins with a Sibelius-like idiom (he favors long, brass-driven gestures) and spices it with a bit of Copland, boiling the whole thing down to concise dimensions. It's an attractive combination, and it holds the listener's interest more successfully than the work Arnell favored with designation as his official Symphony No. 1. The first two movements of this work may be slow going, but the release will be of interest for aficionados of the British symphony.

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