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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade Suites 1 and 2
Viola Concerto
Variations on a Theme of Hindemith

Paul Neubauer, viola
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Litton
Recorded The Guildhall, Southampton March 1996
DECCA British Music Collection 470 200-2 [71’30]

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It seems that Decca has had these performances on the shelf since March 1996 when the recordings were made in The Guildhall, Southampton, only now to issue them in their uniform liveried British Music Collection. Given their general excellence and the relative paucity of good performances – or any performances – of the Hindemith Variations and given that the fluently engaged traversal of the Viola Concerto is so winning, it’s something of a little mystery why we have had to wait so long.

The disc opens with Façade Suites I and II. Litton encourages rude vigour from the brass in the Scotch Rhapsody and judges to perfection the swirling strings in an acutely intelligent Valse. Good balancing informs the Tango-Pasodoble and there’s no need to overplay the Polka – and Litton doesn’t. Yes those Spanish Nights aren’t as atmospheric in Southampton as they were in Kingsway Hall in 1950 for Constant Lambert – but then Lambert is pretty much sui generis in this repertoire. Old Sir Faulk is nicely syncopated – distinctive muted trumpet and hot dance band melodrama. I liked Litton’s way with Façade as I did equally his performance of the Viola Concerto with Paul Neubauer. There is a real sense of momentum to their performance and in the opening movement a sure sense of direction is always present within the lyrical introspection; the effect, as all the great performers of this work know, is to enhance the work’s profile. Neubauer’s tone is appositely lean – it’s not an opulent, heavily vibrated and luscious sound, it’s more alto than plangent cello though quite flexible through the compass. In the fast second movement there is some fleet and lithe playing amid the brass blocks and string fillips. Litton brings out the colour of the score – something not always appreciated – and his soloist brings a sure touch to the work’s architectural considerations. Litton is good at characterising each of the contrasting movements. Together they make much of the contrastive orchestral material and its playing with and against the solo line, as they do of the viola’s final yearning introspection from 9’21 onwards. The Hindemith Variations begin splendidly; after the Introduction the strings soar in the first variation – note the precision of attack and articulation here – in a well-argued and cogent traversal. Tempi are apposite; Litton is again forward-looking when it comes to the score, integrating themes into the sweep of the score. In the fifth variation, for example, there is an ominous tread in the lower strings, expertly delineated, leading to some eloquent playing and the variation’s end, a resolved struggle, is one that achieves a kind of serenity. The sense of struggle and resolution is everywhere noticeable in this performance; after the burnished seventh variation the work ends, following a series of fugal entries, in a sense of achieved tranquillity. In a performance of this kind the intellectual and musical arguments coalesce – most impressive.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Terry Barfoot
Intellectual and musical arguments coalesce – most impressive. … see Full Review

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