> Sir William Walton - The Quest [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
The Quest
The Wise Virgins

Alison Crum (viola da gamba)*
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded 11-12 July 2001, The Great Hall, University of Leeds
NAXOS 8.555868 (62.59)


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The Walton centenary has done much to raise the composer's standard, as it rightly should, and this enterprising Naxos issue is a useful addition to the catalogue.

The largest of the three pieces is much the least known. The ballet The Quest was composed during the Second World War, based on Spenser's allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, and intended to follow in the footsteps of the Henry V film music in boosting morale. This version by the English Northern Philharmonia is the first recording to use the composer's original orchestration, rather than the revised score which Walton hoped would bring the music a wider currency in the concert hall. It never did, however.

The music itself is therefore worthy of comment. The tone is set immediately, with a really arresting opening, with some telling harmonic astringency giving the music plenty of attack. David Lloyd-Jones and his orchestra clearly relish their task, and their performance has a wide-ranging yet cogent intensity. The recording, although not of demonstration quality, is clear enough. Climaxes can sound a little boxy but the playing is very good indeed. At the bargain Naxos price collectors need not hesitate, for the music is well worth getting to know.

Walton is an interesting composer, in that there is plenty to discover beyond the well known pieces which dominate our awareness of his achievement. Two further examples serve as companion pieces on the programme here. The performance of Siesta is delightfully characterised. It is an early work, composed in 1926 not long after Portsmouth Point had shown Walton's debt to Stravinsky's rhythmic angularity. In that context Siesta might be regarded as an antidote, having been inspired by the composer's already potent love of southern Italy. The title lulls the listener into a false sense of security, however. For there is no lack of challenge, with sudden shifts of dynamic and other unexpected turns. Not the most peaceful of siestas, in other words.

In The Wise Virgins, Walton joined the long list of composers who had been inspired by the music of Bach. This was another wartime commission, from Frederick Ashton and the Vic-Wells Ballet, for a score to accompany a choreographed version of the story of the wise and foolish virgins. Walton's sources were cantatas and a chorale prelude, revealing a deep knowledge of Bach (or perhaps piano arrangements of Bach). His orchestrations and arrangements have a sure and imaginative touch, in any case. The orchestra used is not large, but it is always imaginatively treated.

Lloyd-Jones conducts a well paced performance, but the phrasing might have been more keenly articulated. To some extent this may be the fault of the recording acoustic, which somehow undermines the music's impact. Like the performance, the accompanying note tends to undersell the music a little. For this is an interesting, though not an outstanding, compilation of music by one of the great composers of the 20th century.

Terry Barfoot

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