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Lindsay Kemp
Limelight, September 2006

Samuel Arnold was a leading figure on the London musical scene in the late 18th century. He also owned and ran for a while the Marylebone Pleasure Gardens and in later life became organist at the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey. He was respected in academic circles, publishing 180 instalments of an intended complete Handel tome.

His Op. 8 Overtures are in fact three-movement symphonies composed for Marylebone, and in truth they are pretty light fare, their standardised galant cliches presenting the amiable countenance of a JC Bach or an early Mozart without capturing their more refined features or finding their kind of momentum.

Of more interest is the stage music. Like many a theatre man, he is not afraid to make the odd pragmatic borrowing, and in his incidental music to Macbeth he bypasses the play's supernatural element and emphasises its Scottishness by importing several authentic folk tunes, each given a pleasingly sensitive orchestral arrangement.

His own original music includes a rattling military march and an ever-so-slightly Scottish-sounding Minuet for the Banquet scene. In the overture to Polly, sequel to The Beggar's Opera, Arnold again shows his theatrical nous by conjuring up the past in a medley of some of the earlier work's well-known tunes. Under Kevin Mallon the modern instruments of Toronto Camerata play with style, accuracy and commitment.

Matthew Williams
Fine Music, September 2006

Samuel Arnold has been almost completely neglected on record. More precisely, there have been two individual pieces recorded on Hyperion, a song, 'Elegy' on CDA66497 (nla) and a three-part setting of 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' on CDA66924 - a total of less than seven minutes. Now, enlisting the superb musicianship of Kevin Mallon and his Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Naxos has devoted an entire disc to world premiere recordings of all his extant orchestral works in one generously filled disc (76:27). Opus 8 consists of six 'overtures'. In this case an 'overture' is a three movement work composed for the Marylebone Gardens, although by this stage continental composers were calling such works 'symphonies'. The music is all impeccably structured and tuneful, with that sort of well-mannered energy you might expect: the musical equivalent of a good cup of Twinings English Afternoon. No tune overstays its welcome, each movement averaging three minutes. It is not difficult to imagine this being the London musical fare between Handel and Haydn: and if the idiom is somewhat derivative from, say, J.C. Bach, it is distinctly anglicised, and none the worse for it. Arnold wrote a half-dozen Shakespeare pieces but only his incidental music for Macbeth is preserved. It provides an interesting window into his theatrical feel. Without departing from his formal sensibility, he imbues the music with a distinctly Scottish flavour, through use of authentic and imitation Scottish folk song and even a bass pedal note evoking bagpipes at the start of The Braes of Ballenden (a technique perhaps learned from baroque musettes). Unusually, the overture for Polly does not herald the tunes of that opera but rather looks back. In a delightful five minutes, it weaves a complex sonata-form overture out of thirteen tunes from Pepusch & Gay's The Beggar's Opera, for which it was a sequel. The use of the popular tunes backfired somewhat, critics praising the brilliance of the arrangement but drawing unfavourable comparisons with the melodies that followed. No complaints could be lodged against the Toronto Camerata, a finely disciplined group who have clearly taken care to present the music in the best possible light. The leading world authority on Arnold, Dr. Robert Hoskins of Massey University in New Zealand, has provided fascinating booklet notes. At this price, all lovers of 18th century music have every reason to expand their horizons. Why not couple it with a new brand of tea, for an altogether smashing adventure?

David Green
May 2006

A contemporary of some of the greatest European composers, Samuel Arnold usually escapes the notice of today's music lovers, even though he earned a burial place in Westminster Abbey. Here is an opportunity to learn about this "buried" English treasure.

The overtures included here are upbeat and cheery, all in major keys. Arnold wrote a great deal for the theatre and therefore knew something about pleasing audiences. The problem is that there is quite a sameness to the "Opus 8" works when listened to all at the same time.

Included with the short overtures (mostly under 10 minutes) is his incidental music to a 1778 production of "Macbeth", which incorporates many Scottish melodies of the day, and an opera overture, "Polly". The latter is made up of 13 tunes from "The Beggar's Opera".

Arnold was well known in his day, serving as organist at Westminster, composer to the Chapel Royal, and editor of an edition of Handel's complete works. His compositions may not have the profundity of Beethoven, but they are pleasing in their own right.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, May 2006

I review a lot of CDs, which means that I don't have as much time as I'd like to listen to some of them over and over. I've made time for this one, which features theater music by British composer Samuel Arnold -- a tremendously popular figure in his time, but one who has been sadly neglected in recent years. This is music of grace and wit and wonderful melodic invention, performed beautifully (on modern instruments) by the Toronto Camerata. And as always, the budget-friendly pricing from Naxos is icing on the cake.

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, April 2006

Samuel Arnold was a prolific London theatre composer. These six three-movement Overtures were published about 1771 for the Marylebone Gardens, of which Arnold was proprietor. Resembling the Mannheim gallant style of the time, but notably English in flavour, they are attractive minor works that hold their own.

Much more interesting is Arnold's incidental music for Macbeth, with crusty Scottish snap and folk twang well up front. Splendid playing, as on all of Kevin Mallon's stylish Naxos discs. ***1/2 -- James Manishen 128,000 Winnipeg Free Press

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