One of the delights of MusicWeb International's comparative web longevity (since 1998) is that recordings we were not around to review when first issued are now being reissued. Stick around long enough and we will see reissues reissued - it has already happened.
The present slimline two-for-one set was first issued as a plump-cased double in 1995. That was getting on for two decades ago. By then Walton had already been dead twelve years. He had lived to see the Schwarzkopf excerpts on Columbia and the complete Janet Baker/Lawrence Foster recording on LP.
Now this ripely vintage and very current-sounding recording reappears in an exceptionally good and true performance. There are no cavils about early digital harshness. In any event, by 1995 such results were history. I do wonder what the 'digital re-mastering' entailed. It would be nice to know with such a recent recording.
The opera is in 38 tracks across the pair of discs. It is easy to navigate and the track-keyed English-only libretto is all miraculously squeezed into 44 pages, which is fitted without an undue squeeze into the insert tabs at front of the case. Add to this Lady Walton's extended essay. It shows the rest what can
As you will have gathered it is not the first complete recording. The EMI version with Foster was rewritten for the mezzo revival by Janet Baker. By the way, Foster was not the first choice - it was to have been Previn conducting the ROH revival but he fell ill and Foster, who made a superb job of it, stepped in with only a few days notice. Those with long memories may have gained some impression of how a Previn reading would have sounded when he performed Act 2 in the 1972 Proms. We will never know now. In any event there is no need to lament. This mordant yet touching Hickox and Opera North recording of the original version has the ruddiest of blood running through its veins.
The plot in very rough outline is as follows: The Greeks lay siege to Troy. Trojans, Troilus and Cressida fall in love. They get to consummate their love and are then separated by circumstance. Cressida is exchanged for a Trojan warrior captured by the Greeks. Cressida is held captive by the Greek, Diomede - here sturdily sung by Alan Opie. Thinking herself abandoned by Troilus - extremely passionately taken by Arthur Davies - she agrees to be with Diomede. Troilus turns up with her ransom. Calkas, Cressida's Trojan father has turned his back on Troy and joined the Greek camp. In a key scene both Troilus and Diomede lay claim to Cressida. She stands undecided. Diomede and Troilus square up to each other. Calkas intervenes and stabs Troilus in the back. Diomede stunned and appalled by Cressida's failure to decide says he will pass her to the Greek soldiery for their recreation. Cressida grasps Troilus's sword and stabs herself while Calkas is lead back to Troy in chains. The tragic circle is complete.
Walton laboured long and hard at this score. It is full of inventive and often memorable moments. In Parley with the Greeks (tr.1) the sounds of war are in the air - echoes of War in the Air
from The Battle of Britain
score. The music is not short of hyper-romantic Puccinian electricity as when Troilus sings "Is Cressida a slave .... child of the wine dark wave .... mantled in beauty." Judith Howarth as Cressida is excellent throughout, as in the heart-melting "morning and evening" (tr. 4). Thank heavens we avoid a soprano who has fallen into the sound of matronly plumminess. As for the audio side you can judge the mettle of the recording in an instant at tr. 5: it’s great. Listen also to the clamorous phosphoric glare at the start of tr. 8. You certainly warm sympathetically to the slowly unwound words of Cressida in trs. 9 and 10: the nostalgic and the poignant reach out to the listener. Pandarus - not the most simpatico
of characters - in fact comes across very well as in tr. 11. Nigel Robson makes him appealing and there is none of the wheedling Uriah Heap-style preciousness to be heard in Peter Pears assumption in the otherwise invaluable Sargent excerpts now on Pristine
and now Heritage. In tr. 14 we encounter a chirruping Mahlerian jauntiness. This contrasts with the sensational emotional wallop of tr. 16 in which Judith Howarth brings the house down with a towering performance of At the Haunted End of the Day
: the title of the Tony Palmer documentary about Walton. The hairs on the nape of your neck rise and your eyes mist.
There are more highlights for Pandarus in tr. 17 with his words "I will explain" with the orchestral pizzicato superbly limning the downward fall of the words. Tr. 18 takes us back to Cressida with the love music "New life, New love". It has an erotic charge with lines like "Come alive in my arms". This is followed by an ecstatic wash of string sound at 4:10 which is reminiscent of Szymanowski. When the lovers duet in "We are safe at last ..." we knows that this is going to turn tragic. The storm movement (tr. 21) is comparable with the equivalent interlude from Britten's Grimes
. We now move to the second CD and in tr. 1 we are returned to the peachy-toned lovers with quiet high singing from Cressida; spine-tingling stuff. In tr. 5 we hear a cor anglais solo which is like a darkened extension of The Swan of Tuonela
. In tr. 13 Troilus rejoices to find Cressida well but by now she has moved on. When Troilus discovers that Cressida's messages have not been delivered to him and that he is forsaken he plays back to the listener the green idyll of happiness with Cressida but it is not to be. The choir at tr. 14 is slightly distanced but a good impression of strength is retained in their singing. We also hear at this point some of the striding dash and pomp from the two great Coronation marches: Crown Imperial
and the then very recent Orb and Sceptre
. Tr. 15 carries the very intricate sextet (Diomede, Troilus, Cressida, Pandarus, Calkas and Evadne) as Cressida is metaphorically blown hither and thither by the winds of fate and her own fickle confusions. At tr. 16 I noted the cry of "Calkas!" as he stabs Troilus is very much like the lightning-thrust cry of "Slain!" in Belshazzar's Feast
. Finally we witness Cressida's Tosca-like death at her own hand using Troilus's sword. This takes the form of a soliloquy in which she appears self-hypnotised by nostalgia. There is a grim triumph about the final moments and those thunderous blurted chords.
This set is one of Chandos' many glories. I keep hoping that they will do a similar glorious job with Barber's Anthony and Cleopatra
. It was one of their missed opportunities when they were working with Leonard Slatkin and the BBCSO. The regret is made all the more piercing given the excellent work done by Chandos when they recorded the same composer’s Vanessa
with Slatkin (CHSA5032(2)). It’s surely time they re-issued their complete Walton Edition (CHAN9426(23)) as they did with their Grainger Edition
not long ago.
And a second review
For many Walton fans who haven’t yet invested in Troilus and Cressida
it will be enough simply to know that this award-winning recording has returned as a two-for-one set in the continuing Chandos-Hickox reissue series. Be aware that some dealers are also offering the original full-price set. I advise shopping around because this reissue is being offered at widely varying prices, often more expensive than direct purchase from Chandos, with some suppliers charging more for an mp3 download than for the CDs and almost twice as much as the £7.99 which Chandos’s own theclassicalshop.net charge for mp3, with lossless available at £9.99. The economics of the record industry continue to baffle.
By general consent this recording outshines even the Janet Baker recording listed below – for example see Len Mullenger’s article
on ‘This unfortunate opera’. The recording was made in Leeds Town Hall during a run of live performances and made a fitting conclusion to the Chandos Walton series.
I have to admit that, though I am a great admirer of Walton’s music, I have never listened to the complete Troilus and Cressida
. I’m not sure why – maybe the fact that I admire Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
, on which the Walton libretto I based, but have never come to love it, has something to do with that. It doesn’t help that even perceptive musical commentators have described the work as a dodo. In 1954 Britten’s music was more the flavour of the day despite the failure of his own opera Gloriana
Chandos bill this as the original version and it does, indeed, return the part of Cressida to the soprano register; it also incorporates the cuts which Walton made in 1972-76. Those cuts were made at the same time that Walton adapted the role of Cressida to suit the mezzo voice of Janet Baker. Her fans will also want the recording which she made with Lawrence Foster and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, most recently reissued on Warner/EMI 7291402. As that, too, is now at mid price – indeed, it’s reduced to £10.50 by one supplier as I write – it’s possible to have both for a small outlay. The cuts mean that the work comes in at a manageable two hours and a quarter.
Chaucer’s Criseyde is a complex character – some have described the poem as the first psychological novel – lost in an impossible situation, intending to be faithful to Troilus, then in default of that professing ‘to Diomede algate [always] I wol be trewe’. Even the great C.S. Lewis sees her a little too simply when he writes in The Allegory of Love
that she becomes a degraded character. That’s the Criseyde that the Scottish Chaucerian Henryson imagined in his sequel, The Testament of Criseyde
. In this recording Judith Howarth captures superbly the psychological uncertainty of a little-girl-lost.
With Arthur Davies as a Troilus who also sounds young and inexperienced, the principal roles are ideally cast and the support which they receive from the other soloists, chorus and orchestra is superb. Above all the success of this recording is a tribute to Richard Hickox: I don’t recall hearing him put a foot wrong and this is no exception. Edward Greenfield wrote of the ways in which this recording brings echoes of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast
as the music develops; it’s a shame that Chandos didn’t get Hickox to record that work (although he did record it for EMI in 1989), but they already had recordings by Alexander Gibson and David Willcocks.
With first-class recording – I listened to the lossless CD-equivalent download – and an excellent booklet, what more could Waltonians want? The booklet is, as far as I can see, a straight reprint of the full-price original, with notes by Lady Walton, and the addition of a tribute to Richard Hickox.
Walton’s own 1955 recording of scenes from the opera, with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and the Philharmonia Orchestra is available on Heritage HTGCD223, with Façade
Suites 1 and 2, but that is currently (mid-August 2014) out of stock at some suppliers, so it may be easier to download the Naxos Classical Archives transfer on 9.80131 from classicsonline.com
for £1.99 – not available in the USA and several other countries. The Pristine Audio transfer, which Rob Barnett reviewed
, remains available direct from Pristine
on CD or as a download.
Enjoyable as the alternatives are, they are better regarded as adjuncts to the Chandos recording rather than as substitutes. Hickox and his team, ably assisted by the Chandos engineers reigned supreme at full price. At half price the set is even more firmly placed at the top of the pile. It has ‘sold’ a work to me about which I was ambivalent and I have no hesitation in awarding it Recording of the Month
At the same time Chandos have reissued the Richard Hickox 1993 recording of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia
on another twofer, CHAN241-51. Now that’s a work about which I’m more than ambivalent; if Hickox can ‘sell’ that to me, too …
See Len Mullenger's essay on the opera