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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Symphony No. 2 (1959-60)
Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1962-3)
Partita (1957)
Violin Concerto (1938-9)
Belshazzar's Feast (1930-1)
Capriccio Burlesco
Johannesburg Festival Overture
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Walter Cassel (baritone)
Rutgers University Choir
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Cleveland Orchestra/Georg Szell (Symphony, Variations, Partita)
New York PO/André Kostelanetz (Overture and Capriccio)
Recorded late 1950s-early 1970s
SONY SB2K89934 [2 CDs: 72.21 + 70.41]

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This set has been around for some time. It was in fact released in this form to meet the centenary of Waltonís birth but itís certainly no bad thing to be reminded of the many virtues of this classic collection. Those who have the LP box on their shelves will be familiar with these (mainly) 1960s items, ones that have long withstood the test of time.

One of the most compelling statements is Francescattiís Violin Concerto, laced with the Frenchmanís vibrant sweetness and virtuoso panache. In typically upfront CBS sound we can luxuriate in his luscious tone and in the finale we can hear his languorous romanticism in all its glory. In a big field this and the two Heifetz recordings still stand amongst the most commanding, their emotional temperatures differing, their tones offering different perspectives. Belshazzar's Feast, also on the second disc, is less compelling. The engineers seem have attempted to inflate the choirís sound but it still sounds undernourished and to lack weight and sonority. Baritone Walter Cassel isnít really rhetorical enough. The orchestral playing however is first class Ė incisive horns and percussion and a fine sense of direction from Ormandy. The Capriccio Burlesco gets a punchy, brassy outing.

The Johannesburg Festival Overture is a vibrant fugato full of incessant and unremitting colour and is despatched with heady dexterity by the NYPO under Kostelanetz. It shares disc space with Szellís cracking and very special Second Symphony recording. His crunching, aggressive drive scorches the opening movement whilst the uneasy lyricism of the central Lento assai manages to journey from disquiet to intensity to the pizzicato and percussion passage that presages a return to the earlier material. Itís a journey Szell traverses with seamless intensity and control, qualities that apply equally to the finale with its hooded drama. Szell and Cleveland had a special association with the Hindemith Variations and they map its contours with great polish and conviction, bringing out its serious and thoughtful curvature with precision. The Partita was premiered by these forces and they do very well by the crisp humour of the finale and the sense of wistful warmth that pervades the central Pastorale Siciliana. Not present in this set is Paul Doktorís recording of the Viola Concerto with Edward Downes so maybe Sony can get around to that in due course. Otherwise this is a vibrant, reasonably annotated, musically invigorating set.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

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