> Walton Chamber music[TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William WALTON (1902-1983)

Piano Quartet (1918-21, rev. 1973/4) [29.16]
Anon in Love for tenor and guitar (1959) [10.49]
Valse (from Façade) arr. for solo piano (1923) [4.26]
Passacaglia for solo cello (1979/80) [6.14]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1947-49, rev. 1949/50) [24.42]
Nash Ensemble – Marianne Thorsen (violin) Lawrence Power (viola)
Paul Watkins (cello) Ian Brown (piano)
with John Mark Ainsley (tenor) Craig Ogden (guitar)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk on 1-3 February and 20 March 2002
HYPERION CDA 67340 [75.56]


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The two biggest items on this well-filled disc are the Piano Quartet and Violin Sonata. Both works have been well served in the record catalogue, with one of the main rivals being from Chandos’s Walton Edition, a disc that couples these very two works. It features (among others) violinist Kenneth Sillito and pianist Hamish Milne, and the performance has a warmth and intensity that are compelling. There are also notable bargain issues of the Quartet from Naxos (Peter Donohoe and the Maggini Quartet) and the Sonata from ASV Quicksilver (Lorraine McAslan and John Blakely), both well worth seeking out. Having said all that, I can’t help feeling that this superb Hyperion disc will have great appeal both for the general collector and the Walton specialist, given the commitment of the playing and the inclusion of valuable fillers.

The youthful Piano Quartet, admittedly revised in the ’70s but basically the product of a precocious 16 year-old, here gets a performance that, to my ears, strikes the perfect balance between dramatic incisiveness and lyrical warmth. That the young Walton was already a pragmatic businessman there is no doubt; he was inspired by the success of the Howells Piano Quartet of 1916, and the shadow of the older composer is readily discernible in places (try 5.38 into the first movement). There are also hints of Ravel (the String Quartet and Piano Trio), as well as the rhythmic zest of Stravinsky. This performance brings out all these qualities, as well as making us equally aware that, even at this astonishingly young age, Walton was very much his own man. The exuberant bite of the scherzo strikes me as pure Walton, the sort of writing that was to become one of his hallmarks in the famous later works. Though the players here are a real team, special mention must be made of Ian Brown, whose superb musicianship, which has served we collectors for so many years, is again very much in evidence.

The Violin Sonata can seem a disjointed work in the wrong hands, but here it emerges with delicious wit and spontaneity. I have to admit to being an admirer of the ASV McAslan performance mentioned above, but this is no less persuasive, and is in fact recorded in a much more pleasant acoustic. The interval of the rising seventh, a real Walton ‘thumbprint’, dominates the first movement. Marianne Thorsen’s sweet-toned violin makes us at least as aware of the lyrical yearning in this phrase, as well as the bitter-sweet pungency. The theme and variations second movement has an angular chromatic quality that hints at serialism, though it remains a mere hint. The players here display real bravura, and the presto finale is truly thrilling.

Anon in Love, the wittily titled Elizabethan conceit for guitar and tenor, is a setting of six anonymous sixteenth and seventeenth century lyrics on the subject of love. It was originally written for Pears and Bream, who also recorded it. John Mark Ainsley has programmed it regularly, and has recorded it previously for Chandos’s Walton Edition, with Carlos Bonnell on guitar. I am not familiar with that recording, but I can’t imagine it being any better than the present version. How Ainsley and Ogden enjoy themselves in such titles as I gave her cakes and I gave her ale; there is maybe an unforeseen allusion to Walton’s own notorious exploits in the delicious setting of To couple is a custom, which is delivered in a way that perfectly taps into the wit and point of the setting. The above-mentioned Chandos disc also happens to include the piano arrangement of the Valse from Façade, whose fiendish difficulties here stretch Ian Brown’s technique to the full. He certainly conveys the charm and ’20s nonchalance with consummate skill and flair.

What a different world is evoked in the Passacaglia for solo cello, written for Rostropovich (who else?) right at the end of Walton’s life. The sombre theme and ten variations have great power and eloquence, qualities that emerge in Paul Watkins’s excellent interpretation. One may miss the sheer outsize personality of the Russian, but the unforced restraint and control displayed by Watkins pay ample dividends. Walton packs a lot of variety into a remarkably short (6 minute) span, and Watkins’s sheer grip and concentration do not let the listener go until the very end.

The booklet note by Andrew Burn is a model of its kind, concise, helpful and very readable. The warmly resonant recording captures the difficult combinations well, with no false highlighting. Even the artwork reproduced on the booklet cover is appropriate, being by Paul Nash. It becomes harder to criticise Hyperion issues, and this is no exception. For generosity of playing time, thoughtfulness of programming, and quality of playing and presentation, this is well nigh unbeatable.

Tony Haywood


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