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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Walton Conducts Walton

Portsmouth Point Overturea (1924-5) [6’18]. Siestaa(1926) [5’42]. Music for Childrena (1940) [13’18]. Suite – The Questb (1943, arr. Tausky 1961) [13’44]. Sinfonia concertante for Orchestra with Piano Obbligatoc (1926-7, rev. 1943) [19’58]. Scapino, a Comedy Overtureb (1940, rev. 1950) [8’43]. Capriccio Burlescob (1968) [7’25].
aLondon Philharmonic Orchestra, bcLondon Symphony Orchestra/Sir William Walton, with cPeter Katin (piano).
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Walton’s life-enhancing overture, Portsmouth Point, receives what must be the benchmark reading on this disc. Zappy and brimming over with life, the LPO plays its heart out for the composer. Rhythms are spot-on and angular melodies bristle with energy. The work was inspired by an etching by Thomas Rowlandson ( and the music captures to perfection the colourful hustle and bustle of the sketch. Portsmouth Point was Walton’s first successful orchestral work and it is not hard to hear why. The music is full of infectious, jazzy, spiky rhythms à la Stravinsky.

If Portsmouth Point signified an important juncture in Walton’s professional life, the Sinfonia Concertante of a couple of years later (though revised in 1943) is heavily influenced by the Stravinsky of Petrushka - to the extent that Walton played the score (intended at that point for the stage) to Diaghilev. Alas Diaghilev rejected the score, so it became a concert work, premiered in 1928 (with Ernest Ansermet conducting and York Bowen as the soloist). The work is in three movements, each dedicated to one of the Sitwells (Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell, ‘Sachie’), although these dedications were deleted on the work’s revision. The angular fun of the first movement is superbly caught by Peter Katin and the LSO, who seem to point out aurally Michael Kennedy’s assertion that the figures of Ravel and Poulenc are hovering in the background. The ‘Andante comodo’ slow movement is lovely (it could so easily become mushy, though, and all credit to Katin and the composer for disallowing this); the finale (complete with the directive, ‘sempre scherzando’) represents Walton at his brightest.

Note I use the term ‘brightest’ as opposed to ‘brashest’. That epithet could more usefully be applied to the Capriccio Burlesco, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th anniversary (it is dedicated to André Kostelanetz, who conducted the première in New York). Michael Kennedy in his notes suggests that, like Scapino, this work evokes Rossini. Personally I find Bernstein, especially in unbuttoned filmic mode, springing more readily to mind. Capriccio Burlesco breathes an exuberance that makes it the perfect way to round off the disc.

Scapino is one of Walton’s most popular works. Scapino is a commedia dell’arte figure (actually Harlequin’s servant). The work opens in a blaze of bright light. It is, as Kennedy rightly says in his notes, ‘Walton’s Till Eulenspiegel’, trombone glissandi and rumbustious scoring adding up to an enervating outing. A contrasting section, representing Scapino the lover, is marked ‘come una serenata’. The more lyrical passages are sensitively shaped and phrased.

Originally a sequence of piano duets, Walton’s Music for Children is a set of ten short, charming movements. Not the first composer to base a piece on a five-finger piano exercise, Walton’s ‘The Music Lesson’ (the first movement) is unutterably sweet. There is much cheeky music within these movements; but also some melancholy, as in the near-static (very) miniature tone-poem ‘The Silent Lake’. Kennedy is quite right to assert that the final movement (added to the original piano duets), ‘Trumpet Tune’, is ‘a miniature Crown Imperial’.

The more expansive, reflective side of Walton is represented by the brief Siesta of 1926, scored for chamber orchestra. Within its five-minute span it conjures up a worry-free world of blue skies and soft breezes.

Finally, a curiosity. Walton wrote the music for The Quest, a ballet, in double-quick time during the war, for Sadler’s Wells. The score was then lost for a period of time before resurfacing in a North London warehouse in 1958. The four-movement Suite was put together, with the help of Vilem Tausky, in 1961 (this was its first stereo recording). The second movement, ‘The Spell’ (a gentle siciliana) is particularly beautiful, while Walton the conductor brings out the humour of ‘The Challenge’. This is a delightful quarter-hour’s worth of music.

It is highly impressive that Lyrita has managed to present so many different sides of Walton within the scope of a single disc. The recording mirrors the excellence of the performances.

Colin Clarke

The Lyrita catalogue

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