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Sir William WALTON (1902 - 1983)  
Symphony no. 1 (1932 - 1935) [43:10] 
Violin Concerto (1938-9, revised 1943) [33:05]  
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner 
rec. Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 3-4 February 2014 (Sym); Watford Colosseum, 18 September 2013 (concerto), DSD 
CHANDOS CHSA 5136 SACD [76:30]
 
To complement the reviews by John Quinn and Brian Wilson I compare the 2009 account by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton (Nimbus NI 6119) which has the same coupling as this CD.
 
What strikes me most about the first movement (tr. 1) of Edward Gardner’s Walton 1 is its nervy, tensile, dancing energy, lightly articulated at first but soon bursting forth in fiery fashion. It’s almost as if the opening theme on the oboe is incidental to the atmosphere conjured up around it in which Gardner has already fully involved you. The second theme (1:44) comes rather morose but determined from the first violins. The third theme (2:31), introduced by violas and cellos, has the wrenching quality of anguish. Gardner’s climactic statement of the opening theme is at first powerful and fresh, then melting and haunting. The movement’s middle section, beginning with bassoon solo (5:06) is strikingly intimate, with the solo viola backing distinct, one of many benefits in clarity of the SACD recording. The strings’ tempo fluctuations thereafter are, however, perhaps a touch over self-conscious. Walton’s 1951 recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Naxos download 9.80168) is more convincing here in its combination of deliberation and character. Gardner’s woodwind contributions above the strings’ line are pained and dramatic, the following desolate woodwind solos disturbing. Gardner’s concluding procession (10:21) is compelling in its forward pulse while the timpani in the coda have terrific bite.
 
Taking 15:28, Boughton is far more expansive than Gardner’s 13:41 for this movement which is even more animated than the 13:51 of Walton’s recording. This gives the music a more febrile quality where Boughton is more circumspect and inclined to savour its melodies. His second theme is of gentler brooding, his third theme warmer, less dislocated than Gardner’s. His climactic statement of the opening theme and climaxes generally are more formal, more rhetorical than Gardner’s but do not have Gardner’s dramatic conviction. Boughton is more poetically indulgent yet romantically moving in the desolate woodwind solos. His concluding procession is stately and sonorous.
 
The second movement Scherzo (tr. 2) is marked ‘Very fast, with malice’. Taking 5:46, Gardner is certainly the former, but arguably the sheer virtuosity of display required and obtained takes away a little of the venom. So here I echo John Quinn’s review. Taking 6:10, Walton is more waspish, taking 6:27 Boughton almost relaxed in both pulse and sonority, more observed, distanced yet less contrasted than Gardner. The first theme (0:10) from Gardner is of a furtive rustling, the second (0:50) playful and inconsequential, the third (1:02) vigorous, the fourth (2:24) a wild dance. Speed rather becomes the essence, a whirring mirage battered by brutal timpani strokes. Gardner gets across well the manic unpredictability between calm and violence.
 
Gardner does play the ‘slow’ movement (tr. 3) as an Andante ‘with melancholy’. Its first theme (0:11), on the flute, has the quality of a lament as well as sheer beauty and you’re aware of its pained, angular line. The second theme (1:21), on clarinet, is more questioning. The third (2:33) features writhing arabesques on turn on clarinet, flute and oboe, yet there’s something of reverie about these until that mood is dispelled when the strings remove their mutes at 3:48. The gaunt return of the opening theme on strings is counterpoised by the yearning of the first violins’ sighs. Gardner achieves this with the utmost delicacy. The climax is generated by the violas and cellos’ emotive outpouring of a now intense second theme and Gardner brings to it blazing, tragic significance. At a slower tempo, taking 11:26 against Gardiner’s 10:56, Boughton emphasizes the reflection of the first theme, more pained in the second theme yet more airy in the third. Boughton is as sensitive as Gardner to the movement’s emotive highlights but, lacking Gardner’s forward sweep, they do not have Gardner’s sense of their wide-ranging significance.
 
Gardner’s finale (tr. 4) bristles with confidence and is delivered with plenty of fizz. Its first fugue (2:48) lightly articulated yet still with an edge. That brief, calm episode introduced by the oboe (3:54) is well matched by silkily musing strings. The second fugue (6:19) is more purposeful and pacy with the emphasis rightly on progression rather than argument. The closing massive festivities are relished as a virtuoso gathering from soft beginning but the surprising emotive poignancy of the individual perspective of the distanced trumpet solo (9:50) is also tellingly realized. Boughton’s finale, at 13:25 against Gardner’s 12:29, emphasizes massiveness at the expense of energy. Its first fugue is spiky and determined, its second fugue stiffer, yet its trumpet solo appealingly forlorn.
 
The Andante tranquillo of the first movement of the Violin Concerto is presented as expressive languor by soloist Tasmin Little with a sultry orchestral backcloth from Gardner. The second theme (tr. 5, 2:39) has a more purposive sweep in the violins but soon appears more freely varied and airborne from the soloist. The development (4:10) arrives rightly as a bracing shock of an orchestral tutti but Little’s cadenza seamlessly presents the worlds of the skittering, expressive and reflective. A luminous flute solo signals the recapitulation and Little responds eloquently with pearly tone. Boughton and his violinist, Kurt Nikkanen are at 11:49 a touch faster than Little/Gardner’s 12:12 yet less arresting in terms of experience and feeling. Walton’s orchestral palette is equally distinctive, the soloist more introspective, which is fine, but displaying less sheer variety in the cadenza.
 
Little/Gardner revel in the virtuosity of the Scherzo, its first theme all sunny will-o’-the-wisp bravura, its second theme (tr. 6, 1:07) deliciously coy and then self-deprecating. The balmy Trio, with the soloist’s musing response, is another world. Nikkanen is more mercurial in the Scherzo, Boughton more boisterous. Their Trio is more dreamy but less warm than Gardner/Little and Nikkanen is less assured than Little, albeit his recall of the Trio theme after the Scherzo return is more distinctive.
 
Little/Gardner present the finale (tr. 7) neatly contrasting and from 4:33 uniting the initial, business-like thrust of the march manner opening with the lyrical fascination of the pastoral second theme (0:58) to which Little brings the graceful display as of a bird’s aerial manoeuvres for the sheer joy of it. The surprise return of the first theme of the first movement, at first affirmative and later compellingly affectionate, is showcased by Little as part of the natural order of things. Nikkanen/Boughton give the march material a more distinct, rugged character but their lyricism is less freely expressive, Nikkanen less poetic than Little, and in their hands the return of the first movement material is less winningly accomplished. And with Little/Gardner the intricate instrumental layering of both works is fittingly served by the clarity and spaciousness of SACD.
 
Michael Greenhalgh  

Previous reviews: John Quinn ; Brian Wilson


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