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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor (1933) [44:15]
Prelude and Fugue - The Spitfire (1942) [7:30]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (symphony;) English Chamber Orchestra/Steuart Bedford (Prelude and Fugue)
Rec. Liverpool, 1978 (symphony); Maltings, Snape, 1987 (Prelude and Fugue); ADD/DDD


This coupling has seen good service for ASV and unsurprisingly now emerges at bargain price.

The mainstay is clearly the symphony. It’s broadly thirty years since this, Handley’s first recorded Walton 1, made its first appearance on LP (WEA Enigma K53557) in November 1978. The coupling came out on CD in the early 1990s as ASV Quicksilva CDQS6093. 

It’s up against the thickest of competition including from Handley’s superlative later recording, itself now no spring chicken, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on EMI Classics (CDC7 49671-2). While it’s true that there are some rough edges to the playing this is in truth a very satisfying version and far from staid. The analogue recording is among the best examples of a medium capturing an orchestra in triumphant flight. Handley is in his element with the catchy cross-rhythms of Walton’s writing. However he does not neglect the cornet sweetness of the more poetic moments. In particular the brass in the finale positively glow.

Placed alongside both Previn’s versions Handley’s still remains competitive. Discovering Walton 1 through this disc would do no disservice to the music or to the listener. If you had free choice I would recommend either the RCA Previn Walton 1 from the 1960s or the lusher sounding Homeric version Previn did for Telarc (CD-80125) with the RPO in 1985. I have not heard the latest version by Colin Davis but the site’s review indicates that it is more than promising.

The Spitfire Prelude and Fugue is from fully digital sessions with a much augmented English Chamber Orchestra. It’s fast and furious and although stunning, especially in the final accelerated strait, it’s too much of a good thing. Exhilarating stuff even if the articulation of note-cells and rhythmic units smudges at this speed. For a preferred version I would go to the composer and the Philharmonia on EMI Classics. If you are in an unbuttoned non-PC mood the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble make a superb job of it for Decca and do this despite the lack of swooping strings.

Quibbles aside this is a sound entry-level disc. Even seasoned Waltonians who ‘know’ which Handley version of the symphony to go for would do well to reassess.

Rob Barnett


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