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CD & Download: Pristine Classical

William WALTON (1902-1983)
Scenes from Troilus and Cressida - An Opera in Three Acts [53:50]
Partita for Orchestra [15:49]
Troilus - Richard Lewis (tenor); Cressida - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano); Evadne - Monica Sinclair (alto); Peter Pears - Pandarus; Watchmen: Geoffrey Walls, John Hauxvell, Lewis Thomas.
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir William Walton
rec. 18 April - 20 May, 1955 (Troilus), 6 and 16 February, 1959 (Partita) Kingsway Hall, London
First issued as Columbia 33CX1313 (Troilus), 33CX1679 (Partita)

Experience Classicsonline

Troilus and Cressida was Walton’s grand opera; there were to be no more after this. Its first performance was a Covent Garden gala affair in December 1954. Sargent conducted and Magda Laszlò, was Cressida with the tenor here, Richard Lewis, as Troilus. Rather like Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra it launched into a world pitilessly unforgiving of such romantic extravagance. And this no matter how gloriously voluptuous - and both are glorious! Walton and London tried again in April 1963, again with the unsympathetic and ailing Sargent with Marie Collier as Cressida and Andre Turp as Troilus. If anything the musical world had hardened its heart even further against such effusions. It had to wait until November 1976 yet again at Covent Garden for a further and more sympathetic milieu. Janet Baker sang Cressida - the composer having arranged the role for a mezzo. Richard Cassilly was Troilus and Lawrence Foster conducted. Foster had deputised for Previn - the later riding high and seemingly unable to do any wrong - who had dropped out due to illness. A Previn-conducted Troilus is one of the great unknowns of the gramophone. With his eager eye and passionate heart for Walton his Troilus would have been a major force to be reckoned with. He had already more than won his spurs with the as yet unmatched 1966 RCA version of the First Symphony, and various pieces for EMI (Symphony No. 2, Belshazzar’s Feast). The Foster was issued on EMI CMS5 65550-2 - again deleted. Chandos recorded yet another revision in full on CHAN 9370-71 during the early 1990s.
Andrew Rose’s XR re-mastering does indeed lend these Troilus scenes a brighter and more open treble. However for this pair of ears playing the Pristine by the side of the EMI 1992 reissue (EMI CDM7 64199-2) reveals the strengths of the EMI. The latter has more bloom and less treble emphasis - less of the razory deckle-edged metal. I hear it first in Richard Lewis’s heady Puccinian squilla which opens out superbly in the Kingsway Hall as does the needlessly criticised Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who sounds magnificent throughout - a steady aureate stream of tone. Pristine have to work with prime quality LPs while EMI have access to the master-tapes. While the 1992 reissue in the British Composers series is rare and has long been deleted. In fact the excerpts are about to be reissued again and this time ill-matched with the composer in the two Façade suites on Heritage HTGCD223. I would guess that Heritage will also be relying on LP recorded materials rather than having access to EMI originals. We shall see.
The Pristine sounds good but not as good as the EMI original. The Partita makes for a generous compensation but does not ameliorate an edginess in the vintage Walton scenes when a lusher but by no means hazy sound can be yours if you can find the EMI original. Make no mistake the Pristine will please but cannot stand comparison with the EMI re-mastering.
Rob Barnett  

see also 'This unfortunate opera' by Len Mullenger 





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