British Orchestral Music by E.J. Moeran, Richard Arnell and Holst

by Audiophilia on July 31, 2013 · 1 comment

in Classical Recordings

by James Norris

E.J.Moeran — Sinfonietta; Symphony in G minor; Masque Overture
London Philharmonic; New Philharmonia Orchestra / Sir Adrian Boult
Lyrita SRCD.247

E.J. Moeran — Sketches for the 2nd Symphony; Overture for a Festival
John Ireland — Sarnia: Island Sequence for Orchestra

Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Martin Yates
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7281

Richard Arnell — Symphony No 1; Symphony No 6
; Sinfonia quasi Variazioni
Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Martin Yates
Dutton Epoch CDLX7217

Boult Conducts Holst — Fugal Overture; Somerset Rhapsody; Beni Mora; Hammersmith Prelude; Japanese Suite
London Philharmonic; London Symphony / Sir Adrian Boult
Lyrita SRCD.222

I’ve linked these recordings together because they provide a wonderful snapshot of what is so good about the best of English music which hasn’t been written by Elgar or Britten and as a tribute to one of the finest conductors of the 20th century, Sir Adrian Boult who died thirty years ago this year in 1983.

Boult championed much of the music written in Europe during the 20th century and was responsible at the BBC for keeping most of the major British composers in front of audiences for over seventy years.

Ernest Moeran occupies a strange position in British music, written off by many as a wayward soul who succumbed to drink and never showed his full potential. His reputation of late has been enhanced by fine performances of his G minor Symphony and the Sinfonietta on various labels but it is the recording by Boult on Lyrita which still stands out as the supreme performance of this fine work. The recording from 1975 is spacious and warm and retains much of the analogue depth that the original LP contained. Audiophiles will find much to enjoy in these performances.

The real reason for Moeran’s meagre output was more tragic. He sustained a serious head wound during the First World War and lived with shrapnel in his skull for the rest of his life. He struggled with concentration and died of a brain haemorrhage in 1950 whilst struggling to complete his Second Symphony.

From the surviving music, Martin Yates has created a very persuasive case for hearing Moeran’s thoughts which show what a fine work this could have been.

The composer Richard Arnell suggested to Yates that he should orchestrate a work by John Ireland written during 1940-41 whilst living and trying to escape from the Nazi threat on Guernsey. The result is a strong addition to Ireland’s orchestral music and both Moeran and Ireland are finely played by the Scottish orchestra.

Richard ‘Tony’ Arnell enjoyed the support of no less a figure than Sir Thomas Beecham who premiered his early symphonies in New York and London. We at last have a chance to fully appreciate his work in the new cycle of his symphonies again conducted by Martin Yates and played by the Royal Scottish Orchestra with great style and commitment on Dutton.

Arnell spent much time as the BBC music correspondent in New York during the 1940s and I well remember his many stories which he would tell with relish of the politics of Toscanini and Stokowski. [Tony was a much loved staff member of Trinity College of Music, London, where James and your editor studied together in the early '80s - Ed] Sadly, he died last year just as his work was again achieving recognition and his music deserves a hearing particularly as he was probably the major voice of British Music in America before Britten began to make his mark.

This brings us back to Sir Adrian Boult whose disc of music by Gustav Holst is a classic in it’s own right. Here you will find gems such as the Beni Mora Suite and the Somerset Rhapsody impeccably played by what became Boult’s house orchestra, the London Philharmonic (the Fugal Overture and Japanese Suite are played by the LSO – also fine performances).

Listening to these discs made me realise what an exciting and challenging world the music scene was during the early part of the 20th Century, we may have lost the momentum somewhat but there is much to enjoy and applaud in these recordings — all of high quality sound and deeply committed performances.

Holst told his daughter, Imogen, at the end of his life that he realised what was missing from his music – warmth. He didn’t live long enough to convey what he had in mind but Boult certainly shows that it was not inspiration that was lacking.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marc Fraser 07.31.13 at 9:06 pm

Great post James. Richard (or Tony) Arnell was also quite a prominent figure in Film music - which was another great change brought about in the world of music during the 20th century. As well as studying with him at Trinity, I used to go frequently to lessons and workshops at the London International Film School in Covent Garden. It’s a sad loss. Good on Martin Yates for bringing a bit of a revival of his music.

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