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William WALTON (1902-1983)
The Wise Virgins – complete ballet (1940) after J.S. BACH (1685-1750) arranged by Philip LANE (b.1950)
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)

Horoscope – complete ballet (1938)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
Recorded Watford Coliseum, March 2003
ASV CD DCA 1168 [64.00]


Composed within two years of each other this brace of British ballet scores make good programming. Walton and Lambert were of course friends and contemporaries and it was Lambert who asked Walton to score The Wise Virgins – and to do to Bach as Beecham routinely did unto Handel – though it was Lambert who seems to have selected the pieces, mainly from the sacred and secular cantatas. The premiere was in April 1940 at Sadler’s Wells, with the Vic-Wells company presided over by Lambert and some stellar talent (Rex Whistler’s sets and costumes, Fonteyn and Michael Soames dancing, choreography by Ashton), but an abortive tour to Holland later led to the loss of costumes, set and music. It’s for this reason that Philip Lane has adapted the score, arranging the three parts missing from the suite of the Wise Virgins – Sleepers Wake, The Saviour is born today and What God hath done, is rightly done, which is, in Lane’s words an "adapted reprise" of the third movement.

All this explains why the complete ballet is now recorded in this form and differs from the commercial suite. It’s captivating. There is great delicacy of scoring for harp and wind in the opening movement – Lane’s work – and fine solo playing (from the principal cello Karen Stephenson, rightly named, in the second movement and leader Cynthia Fleming in Sheep may safely graze, amongst others). The suite is fresh, bathed in languor and chorale strength, expertly orchestrated and sympathetically played by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth.

Lambert’s Horoscope is still available I believe in his own recording on EMI though many will remember the Robert Irving LP of the 1950s in its various incarnations. Conceived in 1937 Horoscope was completed the following year and again Fonteyn and Soames danced, though it suffered the same fact as Walton’s ballet when the Vic-Well had to escape from Holland in 1940 (they weren’t alone; Boult was conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra at the same time and had to extricate himself sharpish). The five-movement suite is relatively well known but here we have the nine movement complete ballet score (luckily a copy was kept in London). From the wispy, rather sinuously sinister impressionistic gauze of the opening of the Palindromic Prelude we are soon swept up into the Dance for the followers of Leo, a jazzy, syncopated movement full of lower brass, percussion and plenty of animation. Strings are rightly veiled and recessed in the Saraband for the followers of Virgo that follows – with its delicacy of phrasing and aerial finesse. Lambert, full of contrast, now throws in a bluff, brassy Man’s Variation barely a minute long, followed by one for Woman strong on Delian atmosphere which gives good solo responsibilities (Duke Ellington’s phrase and Lambert of all people would have approved) to winds and solo violin. Wordsworth doesn’t over press the Bacchanale and is astutely able to convey the full measure of the beautifully orchestrated Valse for the Gemini and its Light Music profile. If Respighi haunts the Invocation that ends Horoscope that’s no bad thing especially when, though the music’s heady, it’s also so nobly spacious.

There are fine notes from Philip Lane and a warm attractive recording.

Jonathan Woolf


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