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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade Suite (1926-1938) [23:11]
Gloria (1961) [18:47]
Te Deum (1953) [9:19]
Coronation Marches - Orb and Sceptre (1953) [6:49]; Crown Imperial (1937) [8:59]
Barbara Robotham (mezzo), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Brian Rayner Cook (baritone) (Gloria)
Choristers of Worcester Cathedral (Te deum), CBSO Chorus (Te deum, Gloria)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux.
rec. venue unknown, ?1977. AAD
EMI CLASSICS 47512 [67:02]



William Walton first came to prominence as the composer of Façade (1921), a suite of light-hearted pieces accompanying recitations of poems by Edith Sitwell (1887-1964). Both this piece and the concert-overture Portsmouth Point (1925) established Walton as the fashionable composer of the intelligentsia. His association with the Sitwell group (Edith and her bothers Osbert and Sacheverell) began during his abortive studies at Oxford and continued throughout the twenties. Not only did they give him a comfortable place to live but also introduced him to their own perverse brand of modernism.
 
The original version of Façade, orchestrated for a small chamber ensemble resembling a dance band, is very different to the one that we are accustomed to hearing today. Walton toyed, tinkered and revised individual numbers numerous times but the most frequently performed edition is actually a conglomeration of two suites; the first, premiered by Walton himself in 1926 was intended as an interlude to Lord Berners’ ballet The Triumph of Neptune. The second was first given in New York in 1938, conducted by Barbirolli. Both suites expand the orchestration to a fairly large ensemble; what is lost in terms of spiky, almost Kurt Weill-esque satire is made up for in the added voluptuousness. I do prefer the original, finding the suites a little too close to the kind of light music that Walton was surely intending to lampoon.
 
Nevertheless, if voluptuousness is what you want from a Façade, then this famous recording from late seventies Birmingham will serve admirably. It was, of course, Sir Simon Rattle who really put Birmingham on the musical map, and the resultant building of Symphony Hall spearheaded the urban redevelopment that to this date continues to make the city more and more attractive and vibrant. But that is not to say that the CBSO were not a top-notch band before Rattle’s tenure; if anything the greatest improvement in their quality has happened in the decade or so since Sakari Oramo took the reins. EMI certainly had enough faith in the CBSO, pre-Rattle, to extensively record them with conductors such as Frémaux and Norman Del Mar. Indeed the Frémaux era did produce at least one bona fide gramophone classic, the blockbusting Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony of 1978 - rarely out of the catalogue and currently available at budget price on Classics for Pleasure.
 
Frémaux’s performance of Façade shows the CBSO in the best possible light, as do the couplings. Walton’s Gloria is not amongst his most popular or accomplished works. Nevertheless, it certainly deserves to be heard, particularly in this dedicated performance. It is somewhat more dissonant than much of Walton’s output and uncharacteristically straight-faced. Not so the glorious Te Deum, composed for the 1953 coronation, which serves as a kind of précis of Belshazzar’s Feast; in the course of its ten minutes it manages to incorporate all of the stylistic traits so confidently outlined in the earlier work. The CBSO Chorus (bolstered by the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral in the Te Deum) sing well, although there are rough edges in both of the choral pieces included here. The acoustic also masks quite a lot of orchestral and choral detail (no recording venue is given for any of these works; it certainly doesn’t sound like a Birmingham Town Hall production, but the large amount of reverberation suggests that the Great Hall of Birmingham University may have been used).
 
The two Coronation Marches come off best; here the CBSO/Frémaux partnership really shines, turning in performances of immense polish and swagger. I don’t think that I’ve heard as winning a performance of Crown Imperial elsewhere. It is a fitting culmination to a rewarding and enjoyable disc. It is worth noting, however, that this ArkivCD reprint of the original 1987 issue comes at the equivalent of full-price; EMI did reissue it in 1992 as part of their British Composers series, so it may be worthwhile trying to obtain that before investing in the present issue.
 
Hugh Ottaway and Alan Frank provide serviceable notes, and full texts and translations are provided for the choral works. Overall, a great compilation of popular and rare Walton; definitely a spectacular to rank with Frémaux’s Organ Symphony.
 
Owen E Walton
 



 


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