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CD Review

Malcolm Arnold

  • Overture "Beckus the Dandipratt", Op. 5 (1943)
  • Suite "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" (1958)
  • Flourish for a 21st Birthday, Op. 44 (1953)
  • Symphony #6, Op. 95 (1967)
  • Philharmonic Concerto, Op. 120 (1976)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
London Philharmonic LPO-0013 DDD 69:08
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Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921) began his association with the London Philharmonic in 1941 – he was only 19 – when he joined its trumpet section. (He soon became principal.) In time, his life as a successful composer overtook his career as an orchestral musician, but Arnold's connections with the London Symphony remained strong, and many of his works have been premièred and recorded by that ensemble. In 2004, the London Symphony had an "Malcolm Arnold Celebration," and this CD is taken from a live concert on September 24 of that year.

Arnold is a multifaceted composer. He has written symphonies (nine of them), many concertos, shorter orchestral works, occasional pieces, and over 80 film scores. This concert covered most of those bases, beginning with Beckus the Dandipratt, a concert overture Arnold composed in 1943. A "dandipratt" is a young rascal, and Beckus might be a relative of the German Till Eulenspiegel, whom Richard Strauss "set to music." The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was a film from 1958 that told the story of an English woman in China – although much of it was filmed in Wales! Arnold's score is as sweeping as the film's widescreen images, and this suite encapsulates the film's action: the heroine in London, her romance with a Chinese captain, and her rescue of a group of Chinese children from the invading Japanese. (With brilliant simplicity, Arnold uses the children's song "This Old Man" in this last segment.) Next comes a brief and brilliant Flourish that Arnold wrote to celebrate the LPO's 21st birthday in1953. (This is a première recording.) The Sixth Symphony (1967) is enigmatic, like much of Arnold's "serious" music. Banality and profundity, slapstick and anguish, and seriousness and flippancy rub together uncomfortably, and it is this discomfort and these paradoxes that can make Arnold's music so interesting. Finally, the CD (and the concert) closes with the Philharmonic Concerto, composed in 1976 for the LPO's tour of the United States. This is a concerto for orchestra, in which various parts of the ensemble are given an opportunity to show off. Again, what might have been a purely celebratory work is deepened by the intrusion – typically Arnold-like – of disquieting elements.

This concert was a special occasion, and one can hear the affection not just from audience members, but from the musicians themselves. Handley is one of today's best conductors of Arnold's music, and this release will make a worthwhile supplement to his discs of Arnold's complete symphonies, made for the Conifer label (with the Royal Philharmonic) in the 1990s. The orchestra's sound in the Royal Festival Hall is captured clearly by the engineers. Now, if only someone would explain the photograph on the booklet cover to me, I'd be all set….

Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle