In the wake of the
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
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.
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
was at the concert - read
his review for Seen&Heard