Arnold: Homage to the Queen Suite

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Arnold
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Homage to the Queen Suite; Rinaldo and Armida; Sweeney Todd – Concert Suite; Electra
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10550

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The Royal Ballet’s post-war golden era saw one composer after another being commissioned for new scores, Malcolm Arnold among them. His full-length Homage to the Queen, with its divertissement-strewn scenario about the Four Elements, was first performed on Coronation  Day in 1953.

It’s an authentic Arnold paradox that the most conventionally devised of all the works presented on this disc drew from him the best and most individual music, his colourful tribute employing the resources of the Sadler’s Wells company at full force. The glittering opening and closing flourishes are entirely as brilliant as expected.

And a great deal that comes between is vintage quality: the ‘Water’ sequence is an effortless tour de force of atmospheric conjuring, while the ‘Pas de deux’ is a beautiful extended lyrical span, at once dreamily expressive and vividly focused.

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While Electra’s more modernistic idiom finds room for some powerful pagan-style drumming, the story of Rinaldo and Armida (sorceress tries to fatally ensnare mortal hero, falls in love with him and herself dies) generated less strong results. Sweeney Todd involves a blend of schlock-horror and Ealing-comedy antics, with Arnold parodying a whole mix of styles, not forgetting his own. He has posthumously found his definitive interpreter in Rumon Gamba: these are performances that mirror the music itself in their ultra-clear verve and colour. Malcolm Hayes