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William WALTON (1902-1983)
God Save The Queen
Violin Concerto (1939 rev. 1943)
Partita for Orchestra (1957)
Symphony No. 1 (1935)
Two Pieces for String Orchestra –Henry V: Touch Her Soft Lips and Part and Passacaglia; The Death of Falstaff
Berl Senofsky (violin)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Sir William Walton
Recorded in New Zealand, February and March 1964
BRIDGE 9133 A/B [2 CDs: 92.33]


I had wondered aloud during the course of a Berl Senofsky review whether any trace remained of his performances of the Walton Violin Concerto. A letter to this site from Noel Lester alerted us to the fact that not only had a performance been taped but also that Bridge would be issuing it. And so here it is, the product of an Australasian tour in which Senofsky joined the composer, and as if this weren’t enough we have the First Symphony and the Partita for Orchestra, as well as the Two Pieces for String Orchestra derived from Henry V. They were all taped during the New Zealand leg of the tour.

Walton visited the country between February and May 1964, giving seven concerts before flying to Australia to give fourteen more. He brought with him a comprehensive selection of works, from Portsmouth Point and Scapino to the Second Symphony and the Hindemith Variations, with Belshazzar’s Feast as one of the high points (in the end he substituted Façade No 2 for the Hindemith Variations because of faulty orchestral parts). Walton and the orchestra gave concerts in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch, sometimes with repeats, and were joined by Senofsky for the Concerto, a work he’d performed with the composer in New York and Chicago.

Though these performances aren’t dated specifically, and neither are the locations noted - and therefore we can’t tell whether they come from early in the tour - we can still note that the orchestra, led by one of the scions of New Zealand violin playing, Vincent Aspey, was in fine and sympathetic form. The Violin Concerto makes a fascinating foil for Walton’s commercial recordings with Heifetz in 1950 and Menuhin – comparatively disappointing - in 1969. Whether one prefers the Goossens led earlier recording or Heifetz’s later remake with the composer there’s no mistaking his hooded, coiled and intense tone in this work. Senofsky, for the details of whose prestigious (though under appreciated) career I would suggest interested readers look at my previous reviews, proves an exponent of comprehensive virtues. His lower strings are not as vibrant as Heifetz’s and his playing doesn’t have quite the sense of breathtaking intimacy but they do take the same tempo for the first movement. One of the divergent parts of the two performances comes in the second movement where Heifetz, somewhat quicker, is also slightly the steadier rhythmically. The immediacy of his sound is a result of close miking and his famously incisive and carrying tone. The broadcast acoustic has Senofsky at a slight disadvantage here. In the Tarantella section with its mock-sentimentalised waltz Senofsky is less overt than Heifetz, less outsize; instead he contrasts the section with the surrounding scurry of passagework – a fine solution, architecturally and structurally. In the Vivace finale – a bare 20 seconds separates the soloists – Senofsky can’t quite match Heifetz’s centred tone or daredevil panache but he does bring to the movement an elegantly expressive wit, which I happen to find very appealing.

Walton’s 1951 recording, yet again with Walter Legge’s Philharmonia, remains the only commercially released example of his way with the First Symphony. Even so it’s interesting to note that his tempi in this New Zealand performance correlate almost exactly with those of Adrian Boult in his 1957 recording – though certainly not the Adrian Boult of his Indian summer when he was distinctly faster (in 1975 Boult was to slice two and a half minutes off his tempo for the Andante con Malinconia alone. Walton directs with assurance and command though the orchestra was not a big one – strings were 11-9-7-8 according to the membership list printed in the booklet. He certainly screws up the pedal point tension in the opening movement. The brass playing is fine, the trumpets triple-tonguing adroitly (Gordon Webb was the principal trumpet). The orchestra sounds well drilled, whatever its size, and the horn and brass sections prove estimable in the middle movements as well. There are moments in the finale where the recorded sound is recessed and fractionally distant – there’s a spread in the sound that affects the lower strings and percussion sections in particular and this does blunt the impact of Walton’s conducting slightly. There is also a delightful pendant in the shape of the Two Pieces for String Orchestra - Touch Her Soft Lips and Part and Passacaglia; The Death of Falstaff from Henry V. He recorded these twice over with the Philharmonia in 1945 and again in 1963.

Though the source material may seem surprising, Walton toured a lot in the 1960s and it’s to Bridge’s credit that they have collated and released these performances. Essential, I would have thought, for Waltonians and full of interest for sympathetic admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

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