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Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade – an entertainment (1922)  [37:46]
Music and Scenes from “Henry V” (1943) [27:51]
Coronation March “Orb and Sceptre” (1953) [7:36]
Dame Edith Sitwell and Peter Pears (reciters), English Opera Group Ensemble/Anthony Collins (Façade);  Sir Laurence Olivier, Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir William Walton (Henry V);  London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent (March)
rec. 1954 (Façade) 1944 (Henry V)
No texts included
ALTO ALC1026 [73:12]
Experience Classicsonline

The main part of this disc consists of two recordings – “Façade” and “Henry V” - that have been acclaimed as classics since their first issues.  Their value has indeed increased as they incorporate a manner of recitation that seems to be wholly foreign to modern performers.  This is especially the case with the wonderfully bravura performances of Olivier in “Henry V”.  Bottom merely wanted to take on more than one part, but here Olivier actually does do so, speaking the parts not only of the King but of the Chorus, Williams, Mountjoy and Burgundy.  This was of course a studio recording separate from the earlier film for which the music was written.  Olivier gives to each part a distinct character, and adopts a manner about as far from normal everyday speech as possible.  It works wonderfully well, and he easily outclasses the various later actors who have attempted a similar feat.  Even if the recording of the orchestra sounds a little primitive at first you very soon get used to it, especially in this excellent transfer, and overall this remains a true classic of the gramophone.
“Façade” has had many recordings since this, but all too many use actors as reciters, many unused or unwilling to follow the very precise rhythms shown in the score.  That is not the case here.  Dame Edith reads her own verses in a way that is not only faithful to the score but which makes the most of their verbal content.  Pears is also very good in this respect, although in quick passages it is not always easy to follow the words, which are not included in the accompanying booklet.  It is a great pity that the obvious choice as reciter – Sir Noel Coward – took against the piece, but Pears does at least have more than a hint of his clipped delivery which seems to be what the composer was expecting.  This is something which does not come naturally to modern performers of the piece, so that this recording, together with the extracts recorded earlier with Constant Lambert, remains an essential purchase for anyone wanting to understand how the score should sound.  Again, the present transfer is well done.  One oddity is that the gap between “Façade” and “Henry V” is too short.  This has the interesting if probably unintentional effect of making the fanfare at the start of the latter sound like a varied repetition of the fanfare at the start of “Façade”. 
It is not only the reciters who make this such a superb performance.  The very distinguished group of soloists who make up the English Opera Group Ensemble all excel themselves in a well balanced and carefully controlled performance under Anthony Collins.
Only the last item on the disc disappoints.  Even if you do not agree that  “Orb and Sceptre” is a feeble attempt to repeat the success of “Crown Imperial”, this performance lacks the kind of sparkle needed to convince the listener that it is worth reissuing here.  A pity that another early recording of one of the composer’s shorter works was not chosen instead.  However this does not affect the undoubted success of the disc as a whole in preserving these particularly stylish performances of the two main works.
John Sheppard


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