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
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
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.