Beckus the Dandipratt
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness Suite
Flourish for a 21st Birthday
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 24 September 2004 in the Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach
Reviewed: October 2006
CD No: LPO 0013
Duration: 69 minutes
This latest offering from the London Philharmonic’s own label carries an added poignancy, given Sir Malcolm Arnold’s untimely death on 23 September just under a month shy of his 85th birthday. It’s one of a healthy clutch of releases celebrating that landmark, and there’s absolutely no gainsaying Vernon Handley’s authority in this repertoire. (How good, too, that Decca Classics has just repackaged the terrific Arnold symphony cycle that Vernon Handley set down for Conifer Classics between 1990 and 1996.)
The September 2004 Royal Festival Hall concert preserved on this disc was a memorable affair, the culmination of a week-long ‘Arnold Celebration’ organised by the LPO (Sir Malcolm’s ‘own’ orchestra – the 19-year-old joined in 1941 and served as principal trumpet between 1943 and 1948). Not yet fully recovered from a car accident earlier in the year, ‘Tod’ Handley shuffled across the platform with the aid of two sticks, his physical frailty initially provoking a shudder of concern from those sitting around me. Once on the podium, however, he was very much the master of his domain, drawing playing of splendid accomplishment, tireless commitment and eloquence from the LPO.
As on the evening, the performance of the Sixth Symphony continues to strike me as the jewel in the sequence. Written in Cornwall in 1967, this one of Arnold’s most questing, nervy and tautly argued creations, and Handley’s wonderfully unforced, enviably organic conception binds together its disparate stylistic elements to even more compelling effect than on his very fine 1993 studio recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The symphony is preceded by the brassy Flourish that Arnold fashioned for the LPO’s 21st birthday in 1953, and the disc opens and closes with two more works written for the LPO: the by turns wily and exuberant 1943 concert overture Beckus the Dandipratt (the work which effectively launched Arnold’s career as a composer) and the dashing Philharmonic Concerto (a resourceful showpiece written for the orchestra’s US tour of 1976). Both are memorably essayed here, and, last but not least, we’re also treated to a heart-warming 14-minute suite from Arnold’s 1958 film score for “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, which allows the LPO every chance to let its hair down (try the last movement, ‘Happy Ending’, with its delightful quotation of the children’s song “This Old Man”).
Neither sound nor balance gives any undue cause for complaint; the warm applause between items has been retained. Make no mistake: this is a very good record indeed.