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Crotchet £23.99  AmazonUK  £21.99 AmazonUS


William WALTON (1902-1983)
A Walton Collection - 8CDs
Symphony No. 1 (1935)
Belshazzar's Feast (1931)

Donald Bell (bar)
Philharmonia Chorus
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walton
Rec. 1953, 1959
Violin Concerto (1939)
Viola Concerto (1927)
Partita (1957)

Yehudi Menuhin (violin, viola)
LSO/New Philharmonia/Philharmonia/Walton
Rec. 1970, 1959
Henry V (1943)
The Battle of Britain (1969)
Troilus and Cressida - Interlude - Act II (1957)
As you Like it (1936)

LPO and Choir/Carl Davis
Rec. 1987
Belshazzar's Feast (1931)
Portsmouth Point - Overture (1925)
Scapino (1941)
Improvisations on an Impromptu of Britten (1970)

John Shirley-Quirk (bar)
LSO and Chorus/Previn
Rec. 1972, 1974
Gloria (1953)
Te Deum (1937)
Coronation March: Crown Imperial (1937)
Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre (1953)
Façade Suites 1 and 2 (1927)

Barbara Rowbotham (alto)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (ten)
Brian Rayner Cook (bar)
Choristers Worcester Cathedral
CBSO Chorus and CBSO/Louis Frémaux
Richard III - Prelude (arr. Muir Mathieson) (1955)
Richard III Suite (1955)
Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (1942)
Henry V Suite (arr. Muir Mathieson) (1943)
Scenes from Henry V (1943)

Sir Laurence Olivier
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walton
Rec. 1946, 1963
CD7 and CD8
The Bear (1967)
Façade (1922)
The Wise Virgins (1940)

ECO/James Lockhart
Fenella Fielding/Michael Flanders (reciters)
CDs 1, 2, 6 are part of EMI’s ‘The Walton Edition’ (with Walton conducting)
EMI British Composers series
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 75796 2 9 [8CDs: 78.49 + 73.38+50.13+68.10+67.02+75.40+48.44+56.46]


Here’s rich! Eight CDs worth of prime Walton (though some, I grant you, might argue over the Menuhin versions of the concertos) direct from the EMI stable. And all for the pauperly sum of £23.99. That’s the cost of two full price CDs. Put it another way. That’s just less than £3.00 per CD. OK when some of these recordings were sold back in the days of LP each black disc cost about £2.50 (circa 1973) at what was then full price. However given the cost of living increases since the 1970s this set is as ‘cheap as chips’.

As for the concept it is summed up by the modest ‘A Walton Collection’. All praise to EMI for such reticence when the temptation must have been to call it ‘The Walton Collection’. This collection gathers together, straight off the warehouse shelves, a clutch of mid-price (‘British Composers’ series) CDs, places them in a light card slipcase and shrink-wraps them for an appreciative market. At the same time EMI doff the hat with panache to the Walton centenary year and for 2003 mark twenty years having passed since Walton’s death.

There are many long-known friends here and for the most part the friendship has been easily renewed.

The Walton version of the First Symphony is pretty special. It is in mono and despite being fifteen years older (1951) is in sound of broader amplitude than Previn’s mordantly dramatic stereo recording from circa 1966. The excellent Previn is available as part of a BMG twofer issued during this centenary year. The Belshazzar impresses but does not have quite the bite of his first recording - now preserved on Pearl.

Menuhin’s account of the Violin Concerto sounds strained and laboured. Although emphatically accented and clearly recorded it does not smoke and flame or fly and dazzle as it does in other hands. I must accept that things do ripen in the finale though even that lumbers dangerously at times. Haendel, Heifetz (both versions - but supremely the Sargent conducted second version), Accardo, Francescatti, Joshua Bell and even Azizian (the latter on a rare-ish ClassicO) are to be preferred. I have not heard Kennedy. While the Violin Concerto is not beyond redemption (there are quite a few things to relish) Menuhin seems somnolent in the Viola Concerto. Walton elicits gorgeous sounds from the orchestra in both works and there is an eager snappiness in the middle movement of the viola work but otherwise this is not recommendable as a sole version of either concerto.

More vintage Walton next … this time from a later era when André Previn was at a stage in his career where tension and vitality were in close step with the essential Walton. He never once lost his footing from the mid 1960s recording of the First Symphony for RCA (BMG) to the EMI Second Symphony. EMI flatter Belshazzar with a recording that of saturatedly accommodating amplitude. It still intensifies the burnished rolling golden horn tone as well as opening out and meeting at full tilt the power of the London Symphony Chorus. This is a very clean recording achieving wondrous clarity. The music is rich in each and every strand and in the interplay of caramel and venom. As a performance it is, by the merest shading, not as strong as the 1940s original (Pearl) although the accents sound less affected. The visceral whoop and blast of this music is superbly achieved (try tr 10 at 03.01). The Britten Improvisations are the original LP coupling for Belshazzar. They are Partita-like. It is such a pity that at that stage in Previn’s career he did not record the Varii Capricci. They would have ideally suited his nervy brilliance which is fully on display in the rip and snort of Portsmouth Point and Scapino.

Frémaux’s CBSO Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre coupled with the Gloria and the Coronation Te Deum are smashing performances with a high excitement quotient. The recording quality is dazzling with opulent depth (those sickle-toned harp sweeps in the Crown Imperial!) and virile impact. I have treasured these recordings since they were first issued on LP in the late 1970s. They have not been trounced by any of the competition. The mass of directional information in the Te Deum is splendid alluding by illusion to more than a pedestrian two channels. Frémaux was not made enough of while he was with the City of Birmingham Symphony. Both Hugo Rignold (responsible for a ripely recorded and imaginative mid-1960s Lyrita LP recording of Bliss’s Blow Meditations and Music for Strings) and Harold Gray were more obscure characters. The clouds only parted slightly further for Frémaux whose Studio 4 EMI LP of Massenet’s ballet music from Le Cid is also classic stuff. A Frémaux Walton First Symphony would, on this showing, have been a cherishable thing and his Second would also have been worth having. Simon Rattle’s advent spelt the blossoming onto the international stage of the Birmingham’s pride and joy but Frémaux is in danger of being utterly and unjustly forgotten.

And then we come to the film music. Carl Davis's collection is on a single CD. Davis selects Sargent's suite from the Henry V music complete with choral parts taken by the London Philharmonic Choir. It is most vividly recorded with aggressive immediacy. The suite is rather limited in its choice flanking The Death of Falstaff and Touch Her Soft Lips with the antique atmosphere of the Prelude The Globe and The Agincourt Song. The choir blast out the jubilation of victory in the Song but the symmetry is weakened by the elision the music for the battle.

Colin Matthews arranged a suite from music Walton wrote for The Battle of Britain. This was its first recording given a very subtly contrived aural realism though without the roughening of grittier edginess experienced on the soundtrack album. Battle in the Air was well known from the film soundtrack but the March and Siegfried Music were silently concealed from view when the Walton score was dumped by the studio. The march is a peaceful affably Elgarian amble without the barbed swagger of the concert marches. Much the same can be said of the A History of the English Speaking Peoples written for TV. This has a semblance of the vintage Waltonian manner but lacks effervescent tension and inventive edge. Christopher Palmer's notes (always a good read!) quite rightly point up the ‘marching’ parallels with Coates.

I do not need to say much about the Walton conducts Walton's film music disc except to say that this is superb. Mostly mono of course and the tapes are getting on a bit but there is no substitute for these recordings. The wreathed crown among these garlanded treasures is the so-called Scenes from Henry V (licensed from BMG) in which Olivier orates selected lines by the King as well as a selection of lines from other characters. It all works well and of course there is nothing to beat that rustling-rattling shudder of the great flight of arrows faithfully recorded here. The price you pay for such authenticity a recording nearly sixty years old in the case of the Henry Scenes and the whiskery hubbub of 78 background noise.

The Act II Interlude from the opera Troilus and Cressida is not film music but is an apt companion given its retching double portrayal of a storm and of the wild love-making of the two named characters. This is given by Davis with no holds barred intensity.

As you like it starts extremely strongly with Walton imitating Sibelius in the buoyant confidence of the Title Music; a track with which to surprise and puzzle knowledgeable friends. There are quite a few Daphnis-like movements here as in the sunrise and waterfall scenes. Which reminds me: earlier, in the creepy music, to Battle in the Air we are reminded of Ravel’s music for Ma mère l'oye.

The one double CD package in this set clasps together the one-act opera or ‘extravaganza’ The Bear (based on a Chekhov story adapted by Paul Dehn and the composer) with some other minor oddments. There is no libretto but the voices are clear enough. This piece reminded me of Samuel's Barber's witty A Hand of Bridge and Lennox Berkeley's A Dinner Engagement . This is an intimate opera - rather a conversation piece. Track 12 stirs memories of Pandarus's fooling around in Troilus and in track 14 it is not just the use of French that summons up thoughts of Poulenc. Weill is another reference point (tr.16). The recording is from the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival production. This is closer to Bernstein and Sondheim’s music theatre than ‘conventional grand opera’.

Façade is sonorously recorded and is full of character though how thin as a musical experience. The sound of words is everything; their meaning goes for nothing. Try Flanders in track 4. Brymer, Bennett and Wilbraham all put in strong appearances. The modest and peaceable entertainment of The Wise Virgins music completes this set.

What about the sound quality here? Well if you need to tot up these matters please note that of the eight discs there are seven ADDs and one DDD, the latter being the Carl Davis (film music suites). Everything is stereo apart from the Walton/Philharmonia First Symphony and the Henry V scenes - the latter liberated or licensed from RCA-BMG. The vintage is from 1953 to 1987 with most of the tracks falling into the 1970s. Perhaps in years to come the provenance of these recordings, largely from a time while Walton was alive, will be seen as significant. Three of the discs comprise recordings directed by Walton himself - part of EMI’s own ‘The Walton Edition’. The remainder fall to Frémaux, Marriner, Lockhart, Davis and Previn.

As for the competition …. There is the complete Walton tome from Chandos (20 plus discs). This is probably still available direct from Chandos and has many strengths including an excellent Belshazzar amid many other fine things. The Sony 2CD set has an exceptionally fine and orchestrally lusty Belshazzar conducted by Ormandy. This would have swept the board if only his choirs had been larger. It also has the benefit of Francescatti’s very romantic no-holds-barred violin concerto. The Decca box drawn from Litton’s golden sessions in Bournemouth is on 5 CDs - well worth considering for its succession of key works recorded brilliantly in 1990s digital for about the same price. Litton is, after all, the man who produced the top version of Korngold’s Sinfonietta with the Dallas orchestra (Dorian). The BMG double is outstanding and the best single twofer, with RCA’s 1960s Previn Walton Symphony No. 1 as the ‘crown imperial’. None of these are direct comparisons with the EMI set although I would just point out that in sheer grocerly terms, by spending two and a half times the cost of either of the double CDs, you would be able to get this set with its many refulgent splendours and few misfires which runs to four times the number of CDs even if you end up with two Belshazzars.

Rob Barnett

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