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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor (1932-35) [45:08]
Crown Imperial (1937) [6:28]
Orb and Sceptre (1953) [7:09]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Rec. Watford Town Hall, London, 1-2 Dec 1985 (symphony); Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 16 Sept 1986 (marches)
TELARC CD-80125 [58:35]

Telarc took Previn back into the recording studio with Walton 1 almost twenty years after his momentous analogue recording with the LSO. That RCA recording has nourished the BMG catalogue for many years and is still available on RCA-BMG 74321 92575 reviews: John Quinn Len Mullenger. Telarc paired Previn with another top-flight London orchestra: the RPO. If anything the RPO have an even more resplendent brass section than their LSO counterparts of the mid-1960s. The recording engineers, Tony Faulkner (symphony) and Jack Renner (marches) have the benefit of full-on digital technology. In practice this delivers a silkier string tone, a brass bite that has a rasping immediacy (try the first few minutes of the Presto con malizia) and a perspective providing greater reach and depth. The reading has changed somewhat. The mid-1960s Previn, furiously eager, despatched the Symphony in 43:17. In 1985 the timing had extended to 45:08. This is hardly a ‘step-change’ but it rather confirms the mind’s-eye impression of Previn adopting a more weighty tread. Even so Previn keeps the lead out of the orchestra’s boots. Only in the Andante con malinconia can things feel as if the conductor has taken his eye off the horizon while the orchestra revel in the passing detail. However the positives carry the day. It’s strange, but for the first time I even picked up some humour in the ‘giggle’ of the flutes in the Presto. In summary this is a performance crackling with energy and if it is not as headlong as the RCA recording it gains in Homeric stature from the slightly broader pacing.

The two marches are also very well done but they do not supplant EMI’s superb analogue recording made with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Louis Frémaux in 1977. Both however are done with smash and panache. Even the conventionally demeaned Orb and Sceptre is given a slashing urgency and a much-needed buoyancy as it strides out.

The notes are by Richard E Rodda and provide standard context. If you want a handsome sounding Walton 1 then you will find plenty here to enjoy.

This disc is a reissue at mid-price but not repackaged. As is usual with Telarc’s rolling revival programme discs already issued at full price are simply moved with the original catalogue number to the lower price bracket..

Rob Barnett

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