> William Walton - Walton conducts Walton in première recordings [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Walton conducts Walton in premiere recordings

Viola Concerto (1929) [22.52]
Belshazzar's Feast (1933) [33.40]
Façade - Suite No. 1: Polka; Valse; Swiss Yodelling Song; Tango-Pasodoble; Tarantella, Sevillana (1926) [10.17]
Façade - Suite No. 2: Fanfare; Scotch Rhapsody; Country Dance; Noche Espagnole; Popular Song; Old Sir Faulk (1936) [10.16]
LPO (Façade)
Frederick Riddle/LSO (Concerto)
Dennis Noble (bar)/Huddersfield Choral Society/Liverpool PO/Herbert Bardgett cond. William Walton
rec: 5 Mar 1936; 25 Oct 1938 (Façade); 6 Dec 1937 (Concerto); 3, 10 Jan 1943 rec under auspices of British Council. Mono ADD
PEARL GEM 0171 [76.15]

The Walton centenary continues its prolific way among the pages of the back catalogue. Quite understandably Pearl were not to be left out of the drive that has also borne fruit from Decca, Sony, EMI and BMG. The results in this case take us back to the 1930s and 1940s.

Walton's young Façade has so many dimensions. The LPO are not at all strait-laced. This Façade is boozy, slippery, jazzy, bluesy, sophisticated (in a pot palms and Grand Hotel way), light, sleazy and atmospheric. Weill, Ravel and music hall all jostle and collide. Walton, with the LPO's adepts, concentrates on pace and sharp rhythmic control. Heresy, I know, but I am not an admirer of Façade to my taste it evinces far too much cleverness and an excess of emotional shallowness.

The Viola Concerto is not the strongest of the concertos and in this recording you need to turn the volume well up to extract the maximum 'juice' from Riddle's interpretation. Is it Riddle or the recording or both? I came away from hearing this version with a greater impression of mellowness than of bite. This version did however open wide one, for me surprising, door and that involved the parallels between the middle movement and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1. They are close indeed.

Sensibly Pearl have placed the most substantial work last. As a concert sequence this works well. We move with aplomb from the light-edgy music of Façade to the Concerto's gently singing manners to the jagged exuberance of Belshazzar's court.

This Belshazzar is a memorable interpretation on many counts. The choral singing is big-sounding with great undulating sheets of vocal luxury. Words are nevertheless shaped with distinctiveness and can be made out in all but the wildest and woolliest moments. This is just as well as Pearl do not print the words in their booklet. The brass contribution is captured with strong accentuation; so much so that in the opening bars there is distortion. Also startlingly large-sounding is the anvil clang in the God of Iron. Then there is Dennis Noble who, although suffering from a little of what is now seen as stilted affectation in shaping vowels, has admirable breath control. Listen to the way he rolls out: 'If I prefer not thee above my chief joys' all in one quiet exhalation. 'Thus in Babylon' (tr24) is barked out with corrosive vituperation. Listen to the way the choir punch out the words from 6.34. Walton drives the Gadarenes before him in a Bacchanalian access of abandon in Then sing, sing aloud and the great rollers of Huddersfield tone fold and enfold each other. This is really exciting singing.

Walton makes Hickox, Willcocks and even Previn (EMI - my favourite version) sound corpulently lumbering by comparison. Ormandy (heard on a recent Essential Classics Sony) is superb but his choir lacks the heft and stopping power of the Huddersfielders.

It is a pity that, given the age of the recording, the richness and definition has to be mentally reconstituted by the listener 'on the fly'. The sound is purged of spots, clicks and cracks. Buried tactfully deep in the sound-field there is the usual ‘whiskery’ surface noise but it is well recessed.

These recordings are between sixty and seventy years old but they can still speak eloquently. This will certainly please time-travelling enthusiasts of these Walton works. I suspect that many of them will have cause to exclaim at some of the discoveries here.

Rob Barnett

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