Richard ("Tony") Arnell is little enough known though Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish Orchestra have produced fine accounts of Symphonies 2, 3, 4 and 5 all of which have had enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. Thomas Dunhill has, quite simply, entirely dropped out of view despite being a moderately successful composer of light music, operas, ballet and song in the early years of the last century. As the notes to this superb Dutton Epoch issue tell us, his serious works dropped out of circulation long before his more popular ones, and it seems that the symphony recorded here has only been played three times before, with the last outing being in 1935!
The work is richly scored and optimistic - something praiseworthy when one considers that is was completed in 1917 - but not bombastic or jingoistic, as might be feared from a work written during World War 1. It is dedicated to Dunhill's wife and plays, in four conventional movements, for about 46 minutes. At present, and having heard it only twice, I cannot say that it makes the sort of searing impression that Elgar's two great symphonies produce. Instead, it is an agreeable and rich piece of music that did not deserve to be thrown to the metaphorical back of the musical attic, and I am sure that continued listening with its greater familiarity will be an enriching experience.
The Arnell, on the other hand, made an immediate impact and has had me listening to it several times already, eager to get to know it intimately. It sort of stands in relation to his symphonies in the way that Elgar's "Falstaff" does to the earlier composer's work, though it has to be said that the music is not as sheerly imaginative as is Elgar's. There are 8 short movements that chart 6 major incidents in Byron's life, surounded by a five minute Prelude and a short Epilogue representing Byron's relatively sudden death from fever at the height of the battles against the Turks for Greek freedom. There is much fine music in the continuous flow of this symphonic study and it is a major addition to the Arnell discography. As the disc is also recorded in the stunning Dutton Epoch sound that we have come almost to take for granted, and as Martin Yates and the RSO are superb champions of this music, I recommend this disc wholeheartedly and urge anyone who has not yet heard Arnell's music to start with this approachable and invigorating Symphonic Study.