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There is not a work here that lacks entertainment value. Sometimes the movements are prolix, saying twice, in the manner of Vivaldi, what could do equally once. There is delicious writing along the way for woodwind and horns. As the only work in a minor key, the Arne symphony raises hopes of additional profundity which it does not quite fulfil. But there is skill and feeling as the opening Moderato gets under way [listen -- track 4, 0:50-1:50]. Abel has the German background that should produce learning, and to some extent it does in the first movement development [listen -- track 14, 1:24-2:27]. The noble Earl demonstrates some delicious scoring at the core of his initial Allegro con spirito [listen -- track 1, 2:12-3:14]. It is regrettable that Collett's minuet, the only one on the disc, does not display more originality. Perhaps wisely he instructs that the final Presto may be played instead. Mannheim traces are most apparent in the first movement [listen -- track 7, 0:00-1:00]. Smethergell's final Presto has considerable orchestral virtuosity but also the most adventurous harmonic shifts on the disc [listen -- track 13, 1:15-2:13]. Most rousing of all is the hunting finale of Marsh's Conversation Sinfonie for two orchestras, as the chase echoes from copse to copse on the Kentish hills [listen -- track 19, 0:00-0:55].

The playing of the Hanover Band takes some time to steady. The Earl's initial tempo tends to tumble over itself, though the performance under Graham Lea-Cox gathers poise as it proceeds. Slow movements do not always have the sinuous grace they seem to demand, sometimes sounding as if the Vauxhall fare had proved a bit heavy. But it has been a pleasure to explore these remoter areas of late 18th-century music-making in Britain, and to stroll in imagination along the quieter paths of Vauxhall or a provincial garden, where the music need not too insistently interrupt conversation.

Copyright © 13 October 2001 Robert Anderson, London, UK






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