Don’t you love it when you discover a new composer, artist, writer, etc., etc., who just blows your socks off? It’s been happening to me a bit lately, but perhaps my most remarkable “discovery” recently has been the music of British composer Richard Arnell, who only passed away in 2009 at the age of 91.
And this is the work that did it:
Arnell found himself stranded in America during the Second World War, and this massive and dramatic symphony is one of the major works he composed during his sojourn in New York. Writing in a highly melodic idiom (as so many British composers continued to do throughout the 20th century) this six movement symphony shows off Arnell’s extraordinary lyrical gifts as well as his genius for orchestration. As befits a composer who also made a name for himself writing music for films, there is terrific narrative drive here which makes for utterly compelling listening. For starters I recommend listening to the beautiful 2nd movement which has an almost Elgarian central melody, culminating in one of those radiant finales that just takes your breath away. Magical!
Erich Wolfgang Korngold is chiefly remembered for the series of wonderful scores he wrote for Hollywood films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, but he was also a very fine composer of works for the concert hall and the opera house; repertoire that has been gaining popularity over recent years, thanks to marvellous recordings such as this. Written for Paul Wittgenstein, the one-armed pianist who also commissioned works from composers such as Ravel and Prokofiev, this is a lushly Romantic and dramatic concerto, composed when Korngold was still in his twenties and the toast of Vienna and Berlin. Dazzlingly orchestrated and with a piano part that sounds as if it would be a challenge for two hands let alone one, all of the hallmarks of Korngold’s mature style are here. And Canadian pianist Marc Andre Hamelin meets it head-on with playing that simply takes your breath away!
You can also listen to Howard Shelley perform it via the Naxos Music Library (listed above), along with a host of other works by this musical wunderkind.
Last but not least in this self-indulgent musical journey comes another piano concerto, this time by Sergei Rachmaninov; not however the one you might expect. The 4th concerto was completed in 1926 and premiered in Philadelphia in 1927 to almost universally scathing reviews, prompting the composer to revise it a number of times over the years. Famously sensitive to criticism, he responded by tampering with a work that is increasingly being championed in its original form by pianists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy and Yevgeny Sudbin. Whatever the case, I fell in love with it on my first hearing just a few months ago and sacrilegiously prefer it to any of the others; so there!
You can listen to it here in the Library or, once again, go online to the Naxos Music Library and choose from a plethora of wonderful recordings. Enjoy!