When the Collins' Walton CD was issued in 1997, this
recording met with high acclaim. Dame Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson
delivered a second reading of William Walton's Sitwell song Old Sir
Faulk, now capturing much more of the humour and charm of the music
than in their 1990 recording (on Chandos CHAN 8722, reissued on budget-price
CHAN 6653). Sadly, not all of Walton's songs on this CD are interpreted
with the same high quality.
In 1992 Yvonne Kenny and Malcolm Martineau were the
first to collect all Walton’s songs coupled with the complete
Constant Lambert, Etcetera KTC 1140. Even the Chandos series omits the
piano version of the Song of the Lord Mayor's Table. It was also
the first to use the original guitar accompaniment in Anon in Love
in such a complete recording. Kenny sang Christopher Palmer's piano
arrangement, premièred, by the way, by Martyn Hill and Graham
Johnson on 23 May 1989 at the Wigmore Hall.
Certainly there are other recordings of Anon in
Love. The very first, made in 1965, was by the dedicatees Peter
Pears and Julian Bream (RCA 09026 61601 2). John Mark Ainsley and Carlos
Bonell's Chandos recording followed in 1993 (CHAN 9292). Hill is therefore
up against strong competition. Hill's sometimes uneven voice, which
occasionally lacks the charm required (apparent in the orchestral version,
conducted by Richard Hickox in 1990, Chandos CHAN 8824) can be heard
in Palmer's arrangements of three further Sitwell songs. His voice is
only in part suited to this kind of music, from time to time sounding
as if it had grown old. This can be heard at the beginning of Tritons
or at the end of Long Steel Grass. This may of course have been
a temporary problem.
Hill is the undoubtedly best interpreter of Under
the Greenwood Tree, perhaps because the song is much better suited
to a tenor than to a female singer. Compare this with Kenny and Catherine
Bott in one of the four Marriner film music CDs, Chandos CHAN 8842.
When Johnson takes time (he is the slowest pianist across all the recordings)
to articulate all the details of Walton's art the songs achieve an impressiveness
unparalleled in any other recording. Listen for example to The Winds
and Beatriz's Song.
Sadly no recording of Song of the Lord Mayor's Table
exists with the dedicatee Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Heather Harper's old
Decca LP with Paul Hamburger showed how important it is to find the
right pace. That recording awaits reissue and sadly is not included
in the Walton Centenary Edition. This cycle has great moments as in
The Lord Mayor's Table and Holy Thursday. However it is
not so consistent as a whole. In Beatriz's
Song Lott displays all the beauty and warmth of her voice and makes
Linda Finnie's interpretation (on the Hickox CD) sound grey by comparison.
In the three original Sitwell songs there are high-quality
rivals. They have been recorded by Kiri Te Kanawa with Richard Amner
(Sony 76 868) and, in Christopher Palmer's orchestration, by Jill Gomez
under Hickox in the above-mentioned CD of 1990. Both singers draw on
a wider tonal palette than Lott though Te Kanawa in Old Sir Faulk
is perhaps less high-spirited than the other two.
For a super-budget recording this, as with any of the
British song series (formerly Collins), is a must-have. It is to be
hoped that all the other volumes will follow soon.