Tuesday, December 07, 2010
If you like Mahler - and who doesn't? - try this
Malcolm Arnold's music was heavily influenced by his time as a trumpeter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1940s when he played in pioneering performances of Mahler's symphonies. If you like Mahler but do not know Arnold's symphonies his Fifth, with its mighty Mahlerian adagio second movement, is a very good place to start.
My love of Malcolm Arnold's music dates back to the composer's own recordings on Lyrita LPs. But in the 1990s chance brought me to live near to Sir Malcolm here in rural Norfolk, and that led me to editing the composer's personal website for the last years before his death in 2006. Those final years were not easy for the composer or for his tireless carer and champion Anthony Day. The bardo like nature of that period is presaged in Sir Malcolm's Ninth Symphony, written in Norfolk in 1986, with its haunting twenty-three minute concluding slow movement.
The Ninth Symphony is dedicated to Anthony Day and my 2005 post about it was written with his collabaration. It was an extraordinary experience sitting in the house in Attleborough where Sir Malcolm and his carer lived discussing one of contemporary music's most enigmatic works. The composer remained totally silent and expressionless in the room as I talked with Anthony Day. But how could his silent presence be ignored as we pondered over the enigma of that last symphony?
Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony was composed twenty-five years before the sparse Ninth, but already there is a sense of approaching darkness. Mahler's presence is felt not only in the central adagio but also in the juxtaposition of the banal and the profound in the surrounding movements. But whereas the angst of Mahler's Fifth is resolved in a rousing rondo finale, Arnold's Fifth sinks further into darkness in the closing bars as tubular bells toll against a minor chord in the cellos and basses.
Gustav Mahler famously predicted "My time will come", but it did not happen in his lifetime. Let us hope that Sir Malcolm, whatever his present reincarnation, does not have too long to wait before his music receives the recognition it so deserves.
* What is it about fifth symphonies?
** Header image shows Richard Hickox's recording of Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra on Chandos. It comes in ravishing sound captured in All Saint's Church, Tooting. A fine EMI recording of the Fifth with Malcolm Arnold conducting the CBSO coupled with Charles Groves conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Arnold's Second Symphony is now deleted.
*** Music trivia - Sir Malcom is celebrated for his brilliant film scores, among them the 1958 Inn of the Fifth Happiness which starred Ingrid Bergman. A gold statue of Buddha used in the film is now at the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales.
Chandos' recording of Sir Malcolm Arnold's Fifth and Sixth Symphonies was bought at retail. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.