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Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Handley Conducts Arnold

Beckus the Dandipratt, overture for orchestra (1943) [08:40]
Suite: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (London Prelude; Romantic Interlude; Happy Ending) (1958) [14:34]
Flourish for a 21st Birthday (1953) [03:32]
Symphony No.6 (1967) [25:56]
Philharmonic Concerto (1976) [16:26]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 24 September 2004, DDD
LPO LIVE LPO 0013 [69:08]

In the wake of the Decca Malcolm Arnold Edition comes this memento of an all-Arnold LPO concert when the composer was 84. It is not a mere memento. The uproar and grandeur of these performances is to match. While we have to live with the odd cough and applause they’re a small price to pay for such warm and warming music-making. The record quality is up there with the finest thanks to Matthew Dilley and Mike Hatch. Certainly the sound here reaches right out to the listener in opulence and poetry – unapologetic and magnificently full-throated as you can hear in Beckus and the Waltonian Flourish here receiving its world premiere recording. It’s another piece you’ll be glad to have encountered and you will relish the Janáček echoes as well. It was written for the LPO’s 21st Birthday and is a toweringly impressive piece which nicely balances braggadocio and substance. The three movement suite from the film music for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was more affecting than I had expected with a pastoral-romantic central movement influenced by Vaughan Williams and Ravel. The London Prelude first movement is a literal quote from the start of the so-called Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril superbly done by the original artists on EMI Classics and hardly less well on ClassicO by Piricone and Roscoe with Bostock who like Handley was also a Boult pupil. Handley is steeped in Arnold’s music and he brings to it a communicative confidence which you can hear in the epic-expansive London Prelude of the film suite where John Williams is foreshadowed. Speaking of film giants you can also glimpse Korngold in the sumptuously upholstered burnished gold of the brass in the Happy Ending.

The Sixth Symphony followed the Fifth after six years. It is a dark work with extraordinary bleak and violent material. Remarkable is that searing descending brass staccato that rips a serrated lesion downwards across a despairing violins’ melody of the type favoured by RVW in his Sixth Symphony at 7:48 (I, tr.6). In the central movement there is more haunted tension descending into ever more desolate circles touching on Pettersson and Hartmann. Of a sudden you get a cooling jazzy drum kit ostinato and virtuosic optimism forcing its way through the dark night of Arnold’s soul. The finale is more jovial but it’s clearly forced and fragmented. The freight of tragedy – a common currency in the Arnold symphonies - is borne in on the listener in the epic section at 4:55 onwards. Its searing dominance is unmistakable. I am not sure that this version is to be preferred interpretatively to the version Handley recorded with the RPO in 1993 (part of volume 1 of the Decca Arnold Edition). It is however a reading that will give any listener pause. The recording is of such firm grasp and shiver that you cannot help but be gripped by such powerful music-making.

The Philharmonic Concerto was written for the LPO’s Bicentennial tour of the USA with Haitink. Its commission came from Commercial Union. The work was premiered on 31 October 1976 by the LPO and Haitink at the Royal Festival Hall who duly gave the first US performance on 7 November 1976 in Chicago. This is not playful. Its sinister effervescence (at 2:05) has been heard before in the Sixth Symphony. It meets the specification of a concerto for orchestra in the virtuosity demanded of the LPO but the cargo is violent or minatory or both – sometimes Wagnerian. There’s none of the sumptuous celebration of the Flourish. In one of his finest inspirations the Bergian dialogue of the Andantino chimes serenely through the voices of the solo instruments starting with the viola’s sorrowing dreamer. Then comes one of those heart-stopping Arnold melodies for the violins (2:03) but as ever the fates gloat in the shadows. A concerto for orchestra it may be but Arnold is not going to discount his coinage; not for anyone. Compared with the BBC Concert Orchestra version Handley recorded in 1997 (Vol. 2 of the Decca Malcolm Arnold Edition) this has more gravitas and is a full minute longer.

The booklet text is in English and German.

LPO Live have chosen well in selecting this concert for issue. I hope they have more Handley/Arnold material for issue as this is most impressive. A collection that balances Arnold’s full range.

Rob Barnett

Paul Serotsky was at the concert - read his review for Seen&Heard


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