Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arne: Four Symphonies - Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd

Thomas Augustine Arne
Four Symphonies
Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd
Chandos CHAN 8403

Thomas Arne (1710-1778), an English contemporary of Handel,is not a well-remembered composer. A number of years younger than Handel, he lived in London at the same time, and thereffore lived to a certain extent in the shadow of the older master. Today Arne is remembered, if at all, as the composer of Rule Brittania (which came from his masque Alfred) and for a popular arrangement of God Save the King. If one considered only these two compositions, one might suspect that Arne composed only jingoistic, popular works. Nothing could be further from the truth as Arne composed a number of oratorios and masques as well as numerous popular songs. In his quest to be regarded as a serious composer, he composed a number of symphonies of which the four on this recording have been preserved, having been originally published in 1767.

These are short, 3 movement symphonies written in an older, pre-Haydn style. The movements of No. 1 in C major are allegro-andante-allegro. No. 2 in F major has as its movements presto-andantina-moderato allegro. No. 3 in E flat major is written as andante e piu-larghetto-tempo di minuetto. No. 4 is moderato-larghetto-vivace. The symphonies are short ranging in length from 8:31 for No. 1 to 14:11 for No. 4. The fast movements of all symphonies have driving melodies - most have complex orchestration variously involving strings, woodwinds, horns, and/or flutes. The slow movements are emotional and gentle. The style of music varies from baroque to early classical. The symphonies show development from simpler affairs (1 and 2) to more developed and complex works (3 and 4). Symphony No. 3 reminds me melodically of Handel in several places. The other 3 symphonies are more original, especially No. 4 where the use of horns playing melodies intertwined with those of the woodwinds and strings is captivating.

The symphonies on this CD had been forgotten for about 200 years until re-published/discovered in 1973. We are fortunate that Chandos has seen to record these small masterpieces. The Cantilena, a small Scottish orchestra under the direction of Adrian Shepard, provides an excellent performance. This recording dating from 1985, is digital with full bright and clear sound.

The symphonies on this recording provide us with music of London of the mid-1700's by a composer other than Handel. They are examples of lovely early symphonies. In his day, Arne was very popular and this CD shows us why.

R. Broardhead - Amazon Customer Review

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