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Gareth WALTERS (b. 1928)
Song-Cycles and Chamber Music
Cân y galon (Song of the Heart) for soprano and string quartet (1970) (1. 'Torri Calon' ('Heartbreak') [4:24]; 2. 'Cân Olwen i Afaon' ('Olwen's Song to Afaon') [1:58]; 3. 'Y Garreg' ('The Rock') [3:53]; 4. 'Llawer Gwaith' ('Many a Time') [2:01] 5. 'Cân y Fam i'w Phlentyn' ('A Mother's Song to her Child') [5:59]) [17:04]
Little Suite for Flute and Harp (1960s) (I. Allegro [2:25]; II. Lento [3:31]; III. Vivo ben ritmico [2:0]; IV. Allegretto semplice [2:34]) [10:01]
Violin Sonata (1989-96) (I. Allegro assai [7:13]; II. Lento [7:20]; III. Moderato [3:35]; IV. Allegro energico [6:57]) [24:54]
Berceuse for harp (1965) [2:18]
Poésies du soir for mezzo and chamber orchestra (1961) (1. 'L'Idéal' ('The Ideal') [3:18]; 2. 'Promenade sur l'eau' ('Promenade on the Water') [3:13] 3. 'Nuit d'été' ('Summer Night') [5:48]) [12:06]
Carolyn Foulkes (soprano)
Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo)
Adam Summerhayes (violin)
Nicola Elmer (piano)
Adam Walker (flute)
London Concertante/Gregory Rose
rec. British Grove Studios, London, 16-17 September, 18 December 2006. DDD
first recordings
TOCCATA TOCC 0090 [68:40]
Experience Classicsonline


Rivier and Messiaen were the teachers of the Welsh composer Gareth Walters. Not that I detect the voice of Messiaen at all; at least not in this first Walters collection on CD. On the other hand Britten is occasionally a presence in the mix. His starkness is evident in the raw upward bristling thrusts of the quartet in the first song of Cân y galon. The second song hints at Rivier’s cleanly athletic springy string writing but combines this with a vocal line which has more in common with the troubadour spirit of Poulenc. The last song Cân y Fam i'w Phlentyn is cool, emotionally speaking yet tender. The Little Suite for flute and harp is by turns lively-jocular, sunnily drowsy, gawkily jazzy and bucolic. It has a sweet disposition and might be seen as a sort of fusion between Roussel and Benjamin. I can imagine a more fluent performance than this one but both players communicate enjoyably.

The four movement Violin Sonata is very spirited and gives vent to a densely lyrical voice threaded through with turbulence. This aspect can be felt in the sometimes angular and singing passion of the two outer movements. An easeful tenderness saturates the touching and throatily emotional Lento. After such intensity Walters releases the tension with a short sing-song Moderato yet preserves enough of the rawness and tempered dissonance to give the music savour. This is a wonderful work with a ferocious power and glimmering beauty.

This disc has been well thought through. Again after the passionate interplay of the Sonata comes repose in the shape of the little harp Berceuse with its delicate charms – adroit to the instrument’s soul and heart. It has a demure Gallic innocence. Lastly comes the Poésies du soir. This is a sultry hot-house triptych of songs to words by Sully Prudhomme, André Thiriet and Paul Bourget. Against a motile string backdrop, wind instruments sing out. The orchestral effect is rather Sibelian in the central song but never at the expense of that sensuous Gallic pulsation. The final song is sheerly lovely, ending with a long-held breath as emotionally striking as the burred held chord at the end of the second song.

The sound throughout is vivacious and immediate sometimes to the point of ferocity. In the case of the mezzo in Poésies du soir this rather bring out her vibrato which is more emphatic than that of the soprano in the Cân y galon.

Britten was an early mentor to Walters but his music escapes unscathed. His studies in Paris had a more enduring impact although not in terms of sounding like Messiaen. If anything he seems, in the songs, to assume the mantle of the sensuous chanson tradition with modest infusions of Ravel and Poulenc. He reminded me a little of one of his contemporaries – Carey Blyton in his orchestral song cycles. In the chamber works there is a Gallic warmth to the writing but also a lyrical countryside indulgence  associated with early Howells.

As ever with Toccata we get splendid notes – this time by the composer – plus all the words and translations together with artist biographies.

If you have a taste for the genres I have mentioned I cannot imagine your being disappointed with this newly revealed musical voice.

Rob Barnett


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