WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Fantasy on a Theme of John Field; Sweeney Todd Concert Suite; Tam O’Shanter Overture Symphony No. 6; Fantasy on a Theme of John Field; Sweeney Todd Concert Suite; Tam O’Shanter Overture
PERFORMER: John Lill (piano); RPO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 224 DDD
This collection is split down the middle. Unreconstructed Arnold fans may enjoy the rambling and garrulous suite from a long-forgotten ballet about Sweeney Todd, and in its time the pseudo-Scottish boozy bombast of Tam O’Shanter has attracted as many listeners as it has turned off. Moving two decades on to the Field fantasy, the same voice speaks in a quite different register, as if battered by life and deepened by experience – too edgy to be comic as a sequence of surprises unfolds, abrasive cadenza followed by full, glowing Tchaikovsky-style treatment of Field’s melody and a grim, hectic ending. Lill gives the solo part just the right sort of uneasy panache.
The symphony also receives a strong, convincing performance. Quite often its tone reminded me of Richard Rodney Bennett, another composer whose symphonies have yet to take their rightful place in the repertoire. But while the music deals in Romantic associations it refuses to resolve their tensions in its short, cynically jolly finale with a preposterously blatant close (pure Arnold). Its slow movement features a long, awkward, trumpet-coloured tune, and unlike Ravel or Stravinsky, Arnold feels jazz idioms instead of treating them as fashion objects. Robert Maycock