London Philharmonic Orchestra (Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London on September 24, 2004)

Gramophone Magazine – Awards 2006 edition

(Symphony No 6/Beckus the Dandipratt/The Inn of the Sixth Happiness Suite/Philharmonic Concerto/Flourish for a 21st birthday)

The two musical sides of Malcolm Arnold revealed in this fine concert.
The cheeky, roguish musical progress of the hero of Beckus the Dandipratt, Malcolm Arnold’s first major orchestral work, is very much in the tradition of ‘Till Eulenspiegel’ but more uninhibitedly vulgar. Its brilliant orchestral colours are archetypal early Arnold.

He was famous for film music, too, and the suite from the score for the Inn of the Sixth Happiness shows his rich melodic flair in the gorgeous central “Romantic Interlude” while in the finale we meet the composer’s infectious exuberance in his witty interpolation of the folk song “This old man”.

But when we turn to the Symphony and the Philharmonic Concerto we encounter a different musical personality. The orchestral palette is as imaginative and brilliant as ever but it expresses darkly personal, more introverted feelings.

The Sixth Symphony written in Cornwall in 1967, is perhaps the most troubled of all the symphonies, the swirling opening woodwind against stabbing brass leading to a poignant melody, the central movement producing the powerful essence of a funeral march with a truly menacing climax, and the rondo finale, for all its surface exuberance, never quite shaking off the work’s disconsolate atmosphere.

The Philharmonic Concerto, written in 1976 for the orchestra’s US tour in bicentenary year, celebrates the American War of Independence without glory but with an infinitely touching, elegiac central Andantino (beautifully played here) leading to an energetic “Chacony” finale, with a sense of hollow triumph (Arnold was a pacifist). One wonders what the Americans made of it at the time.

These live performances are very committed, and Handley’s skill in sustaining atmosphere and holding elusive structures together is heard at its finest. Excellently balanced sound, too.

- Ivan March

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