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Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
The Wise Virgins: Sleepers Wake [2.37], The Saviour is born today [4.21], What God hath done, is rightly done [3.12], Lord, hear my longing [2.00], See what His love can do [2.52], Ah! How Ephemeral [2.02], Sheep may safely graze [6.09], What God hath done is rightly done [1.30], Praise be to God [1.40]
Constant LAMBERT (1895-1951)

Horoscope: Palindromic Prelude [2.44], Dance for the followers of Leo [4.44], Saraband for the followers of Virgo [5.30], Manís variation [0.58], Womanís Variation [2.58], Bacchanale [4.44], Valse for the Gemini [4.08], Pas de deux [4.18], Invocation to the Moon and finale [7.20]
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
Recorded at Watford Coliseum, 18th and 19th March 2003 DDD
ASV CD DCA 1168 [64.00]


Two excellent performances of rarely heard works. Walton's Wise Virgins is a transcription of works by Bach commissioned by Lambert for the Vic-Wells ballet, of which Lambert then was the director. Lambert selected the works himself - drawn mainly from the cantatas - which Walton then scored. Here, three movements which were almost immediately lost in a tour of Holland, have been sympathetically reconstructed by Philip Lane. Although it was a trend at that time to arrange and orchestrate Bach (and Handel), it is nonetheless most disconcerting (particularly for a devoted Bach lover) to hear his works set for full orchestra, with instruments such as the harp playing a prominent role. It is questionable that taking music out of the context for which it was written is a good idea, and I found that with every one of these transcriptions, the music sounded out of place and just "wrong". Although Walton's transcriptions are not as overblown as some, such as Stokowski's, Schoenberg's, and even Elgar's (Prelude and Fugue), to my mind (admittedly puritanical in this respect!), they still do a great injustice to Bach. Walton manages to completely remove the beauty and the spirituality of Bach's music and trivialises the masterpieces, rendering them solely pleasant tunes. This is exemplified perfectly in the awful third movement - an adaptation of What God hath done, is rightly done, where an originally momentous sacred work is recast as something infuriatingly frivolous and superficial, with silly Gilbert and Sullivan-esque twiddles after every phrase. To my despair, there is later a reprise of this most irritating of movements! The ballet is otherwise fairly monotonous with the exception of the boisterous but inconsequential Ah! How Ephemeral! (a most ephemeral track!). The playing is of a high standard, as one might expect from the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth. There is some impressively nimble brass playing, and as a whole, the performance is sympathetic although fairly restrained.

I must admit to sheer delight, however, when the Walton ended and the Lambert began. The basis of the ballet Horoscope is, as its name suggests, an astrological one, and the music represents the struggle between the opposed signs of Leo and Virgo, and the eventual union of a couple through their shared moon sign of Gemini. Horoscope is available in its Suite version on a couple of recordings - an outstanding version on Hyperion with Lloyd-Jones, and another commendable one on Chandos with Bryden Thomson conducting. This is the premiere recording of the full version, and is a real treasure. The opening movement, Palindromic Prelude is very reminiscent of Holst and Walton with driving, energetic rhythms and brilliant use of percussion and syncopation. The incandescent second moment, Dance for the followers of Leo holds fleeting reminiscences to Vaughan Williamsí Job and to Holst's Perfect Fool and could almost be taken from one of these in places. Saraband for the followers of Virgo, as would be expected, is more lyrical, an almost stereotypical English Idyll, and the dreamlike Manís Variation is Delian in character. Panache bursts forth from the Womanís Variation, and the Valse for the Gemini demonstrates clearly the elegance of the score and Lambert's consummate grasp of orchestration. This is followed by a powerful Pas de deux, and the work concludes with a dramatic Invocation to the Moon and Finale of almost symphonic dimensions.

All the movements of Horoscope are like exquisite miniatures, all very different in mood and character, with unusual, interesting and exciting orchestrations throughout. The BBC Concert Orchestra was obviously the perfect choice as being uniquely suited for this work, given their experience, which transcends the strictly classical, and has ventured into both light music and film music. This work at least needs to be back in the repertoire, and despite the appalling Wise Virgins, I would recommend this CD to any English music lover, or admirer of ballet music, just for the radiant and irrepressible Horoscope!

Em Marshall

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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