All of the companies have had some form of salute for
Walton in this year of the centenary of the Oldham-born composer. Sony
were not going to be left behind and just as well for us because CBS
made some indispensable Walton recordings during the 1960s. These two
discs breathe new life into some fabled analogue recordings.
We start with the Johannesburg Festival Overture
- which with the Capriccio (dedicated to Kostelanetz)
is the most recent recording. The Overture is given an intensely rapid
tick-over. Walton's sympathies were for warmer southern climes witness
most of his music, his wife and his home in Ischia. The Overture blethers
and raves touched with a warm picaresque wildness from as early as Portsmouth
Point (and presumably also as far back as the totally ignored Doctor
Syntax overture). Great brass and woodwind playing from the New
Yorkers and a similarly cracking and exultant airing for the Capriccio
Burlesco. Wonderful recording quality too.
Szell's Clevelanders cornered the Walton market during
the 1950s into the 1960s and here are three substantial works in their
premiere recordings anywhere.
The Second Symphony is divided from its predecessor
by a world war and more than twenty years. The lento middle movement
is an elysian reflection in a style surprisingly Baxian (at 0900) as
is 4.30 of the finale. It separates two eight minute movements; the
first being as wildly active as the Festival Overture though without
the carefree element. It is furiously violent instead. The finale is
impressive too at 6.30 with its raven-cawing trombones. For some reason
the otherwise very competent booklet notes have nothing to say about
the Symphony. The Symphony was recorded in the 1970s by Previn, the
LSO and EMI and that is a more refined and lustrous recording than this.
As a work it lacks the Odysseyan qualities of the First Symphony.
The zestful Hindemith Variations are
on a theme from the second movement of Hindemith's cello concerto with
material from the opera Mathis der Maler referred to passim.
Sadly Hindemith's death in the early 1960s prevented a plan for
the German composer to conduct the work. If this had happened it would
have brought a theme full circle - in 1929, after Tertis had spurned
the Viola Concerto, Hindemith had given the premiere. Walton conducted
the London premiere with the LPO who had commissioned the work. Szell
was the first to conduct the piece in the USA. Despite its mere 22 minutes
it exudes a serious symphonic character. Recording quality extremely
satisfactory though at 16.20 in the variations I noticed some pre-echo.
Szell directed the first performance of the Partita
with the Clevelanders for whose fortieth anniversary the work
had been commissioned. The composer set out to write a heavy duty divertimento
avoiding the great issues. He did not quite succeed in that for their
are dense and dark shadows in this music and great issues are hinted
at in the linkages with the music he had written for Troilus and
Cressida (first movement only). The Pastorale which
sets oboe and viola principals against each other in a classical rondo
of Grecian warmth and restraint where the wind writing sometimes suggests
Nielsen. Although written for larger forces its three five minute movements
can be bracketed with the sinfoniettas and suites by his friend and
collaborator, Malcolm Arnold. I came away from hearing this work again
with a very high regard for the Partita which has more of the
authentic Waltonian spark and humour (the latter especially in the last
movement) than the other two Cleveland works.
Francescatti is in vibrantly rough-toned, explosively
responsive and generous hearted for the Violin Concerto. He is
full of character and nothing passes by him in reticence or anonymity.
On the marginal downside the orchestral detailing from the 'Fabulous
Philadelphians' is finely hazed by the warm sound-image. He does not
give routine performances and his Sony-CBS recordings of the Brahms
and the Sibelius concertos are just as intriguing. His granitic, brilliant
spark casting vivace is superb.
If the concerto jostles with my first recommendations
(the Heifetz/Sargent mono - BMG and the Haendel/Berglund analogue stereo
- EMI) this excellent Belshazzar is not going to be my
first choice. I like the EMI recording - the one with Previn and the
LSO as well as the Willcocks version on Chandos. Each have big choirs
with a great feeling of mass and volume. The Rutgers University Choir
sound either set back in the soundstage or smaller or both. While much
more incisively coached, shaped, enunciated and coordinated (by F Austin
Walter) the effect in terms of impact from this choral point of view
is comparable with the old CFP LP of Hallé forces conducted by
James Loughran. Walter Cassel sometimes sounds tremulous where an oleaginous
black vocal viscosity is what is needed. Ormandy and Philadelphians
give an alert, vibrant and shatteringly emphatic performance.
Belshazzar was a blessed liberation was from
the stultifying prolixity of so many British cantatas from the 1850s
onwards. It was the best known emancipatory key to works such as Fricker's
A Vision of Judgement (an outstanding work in its own right)
and Finzi's Intimations of Immortality. Inn more recent times
its influence can be heard in works by the British composers Mathias,
Williamson and Todd. It was not a completely revolutionary work and
examination of earlier works is likely to be rewarding. I have in mind
Delius's A Mass of Life, John Foulds' World Requiem, Patrick
Hadley's The Hills, Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony,
Cyril Rootham's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity and,
closer to Philadelphia, Robert Nathaniel Dett's Ordering of Moses,
Howard Hanson's Lament of Beowulf, Leroy Robertson's Book
of Mormon and Cecil Effinger's St Paul.
Much of what is on this set was available on a 1983
CBS LP boxed set (CBS 6 79411). Such are the bounteous virtues of the
compact disc that the only things included in that 4 LP set which could
not be squeezed onto these two CDs are a Façade (Sitwell and
Prausnitz) and the Doktor/LPO/Downes version of the Viola Concerto.
The words for Belshazzar are printed in full.
Poor marks for not naming the note writer and for failing to detail
the dates and locations of the recording sessions. There is a measure
of hiss on all these recordings less so for the two Kostelanetz items.
However everything here is derived from analogue sources.
There is no competition for this contrasting collection
of prime and late mature Walton; the latter in authoritative versions;
the former brimming with character. Inexpensive too.
ORIGINAL LP ISSUES
Variations on a Theme by Hindemith (1962-3) Columbia
Symphony No. 2 (1959-60) from SAX2459 (1962)
Belshazzar's Feast (1930-1) from CBS SBRG72025 (1962).
Partita for Orchestra (1957) from SAX2459 (1962)
Violin Concerto (1938-9) from Philips SABL191 (1961)
Johannesburg Festival Overture and Capriccio burlesco
from CBS 61365 (1974).