> William Walton conducts: Belshazzar's Feast, Cello Concerto [SL]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William Walton conducts:-
Belshazzar’s Feast

Donald McIntyre, BBC Chorus, BBC Choral Society, Christ Church Harmonic Choir, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Royal Festival Hall 22 September 1965
Symphony No 1

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Edinburgh Festival 23 August 1959
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4097-2 [77:43]



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William Walton conducts:-
Cello Concerto

Pierre Fournier, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Edinburgh Festival 23 August 1959
The Twelve (first performance of orchestral version)
Coronation Te Deum

Ann Dowdall, Shirley Minty, Robert Tear, Michael Wakeham,
London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra. Westminster Abbey 2 January 1966. Variations on a theme by Hindemith
(first performance)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Royal Festival Hall 8 March 1963
Façade extracts: Tango-pasodoble, Popular Song, Old Sir Faulk, Tarantella-Sevillana
BBC Symphony Orchestra. RAH Prom 20 August 1968
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4098-2 [79:05]



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Here are two BBC Legends of unquestionable importance. This performance of Belshazzar’s Feast is one to treasure. It has a cumulative excitement that one can only experience in a live performance. The opening is fairly low-key, with perhaps a degree of nervousness and uncertainty among the performers, and the trombones preluding the prophesy from Isaiah more sombrely than dramatically. But things settle down fairly quickly. Donald McIntyre is a splendid baritone (although he hangs on to the semi-quaver of ‘men’ at the end of the ‘shopping list’) and once the feast is underway there is a real sense of drama, the work ending with terrific punch and almost military precision.

Walton delivers an equally tough reading of the Symphony, another masterpiece that like Belshazzar’s Feast never fails to make an impact, marginally faster overall than a Prom performance he gave five days before this Edinburgh Festival one. Then he conducted the LSO instead of the RPO, and if it still exists in the BBC Archives it would probably have been ruled out of selection because of the intrusion of an early ‘Bravo!’ from a member of the audience who clearly did not know how many slammed chords ended the work. In the performance on this CD the composer conducting gives a no-nonsense edge and drive that other conductors can’t quite match, just slightly underplaying the tension in the slow movement which is the emotional heart of the work.

The main items of the second disc, the Cello Concerto and the Hindemith Variations, have been available before: the former was included in Volume 3 of ‘The Art of Pierre Fournier’, Arlecchino ARLA66, and the latter (the work’s première), on Carlton Classics BBC Radio Classics 15656 91782. The Fournier performance was in the same Edinburgh Festival programme as the First Symphony (only the Partita has not been transferred). The Promenade concert from which the Façade extracts come was to have included a new overture (announced as Philharmonic Overture N.Y. ’68 but eventually named Capriccio Burlesco) but, as the announcer said, it was not ready in time so the Johannesburg Festival Overture was played instead. If that was evidence of the compositional difficulties that Walton was having, the Façade extracts show he had lost nothing of his skills as a conductor. Seven pieces were actually played in the concert, with Popular Song encored; here we have just four of them, a CD playing time of 79 minutes not allowing any more to be squeezed on. (Incidentally, the sleeve-note is inaccurate in suggesting that Walton orchestrated numbers from Façade for an interlude in Berners’ The Triumph of Neptune. A good number of British works were used a ‘symphonic interludes’ during Diaghilev’s ballet programmes but they were not composed expressly for that purpose. The first Façade suite more than likely had its premiere in the programme that included The Triumph of Neptune because Walton had helped out Berners by orchestrating four of the numbers.)

The particular importance of this second CD is that it preserves the composer’s interpretations of works of which he made no commercial recording, apart from the Façade suites. Even then there are elements of wit and sheer fun in the Façade items that are absent from his studio recordings. The beginning of the Cello Concerto will surprise some listeners: with an overall timing of just over 23 minutes Walton sets much faster tempi than either Wallfisch and Thomson on Chandos or Piatigorsky and Sargent at the first London performance (not issued), both performances taking over 30 minutes. Walton’s sharper pacing is evident from the very opening. The Twelve and the Coronation Te Deum both come from a concert shared with Boult to mark the nine-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of Westminster Abbey, this being the first performance of The Twelve in orchestral dressing. These are quite simply CDs that should not be missed.

Stephen Lloyd

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