Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

WALTON. Symphony No 1; Varii Capricci   London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bryden Thomson. Chandos CHAN8862 recorded 1990 [DDD] [59' 37"].
Save around 22% with



This is, without doubt, the finest performance of Walton's Symphony No 1 and it highlights the brilliance not only of the orchestra and the recording but one of that rare breed of musicians, the truly great conductor.

For those of us who were privileged to know 'Jack' Thomson and attend his rehearsals and concerts we can testify that his concern was to perform music as the composer had written it. He would divide his 'spare time' between the golf course and reading and re-reading scores even those he knew well. His aim was to show detail and to bring out all that was in the score; he agonised over correct tempi believing it to be one of the essentials to getting a score right. Clarity and texture were vital to his readings. Although he had a reputation for being peppery this was due to his quest for perfection. He was simply superb with soloists who often asked his help in a difficult passage and, every time, Jack had the answer immediately. He worked on many exacting scores and premièred works that other conductors would not touch giving various excuses, whereas the true reason was probably that they were inadequate for the task.

The first movement is simply perfect. Everything is in control; the tempi are always well-judged; the famous oboe tune is expertly done as is the hollow bassoon commentary. The build-ups are gradual, as Walton intended, and tremendously exciting. The crescendos are magnificent and every detail is observed. When the timpani are pp, they are. The performance is never 'over the top' but controlled. There are no ugly caricatures as in the Haitink and Rattle versions. The string playing after figure 18 is both sensuous and telling and the easily-boring passage, figure 19 to figure 24 is expertly done as Thomson brings out detail and maintains interest. The brass is exciting but never displayed as 'sore thumbs' but integrated into the overall texture. The timpanists are excellent and the exultant conclusion to this superb music is absolutely exhilarating and heroic. Simply stunning.

Thomson's fastidious attention to detail is also shown in the following presto. His performance is menacing. He is the only conductor who manages to change from 3/4 to 5/4 and he observes and demonstrates the talone marcatissimo at figure 51 and the martellato, two bars after 60. The scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth is not far away and the finale of Shostakovitch's Sixth is more than hinted at in a passage after 71. The enviable control that Thomson has does not make the music mechanical; it is always alive and vibrant.

The andante con malincolia has superb woodwind solos without the appalling unauthorised rests and cutting the value of minims as in Haitink's performance. The string tone is luscious and everything blends. As with another great conductor, Fritz Reiner, Thomson has an uncanny way of making the orchestra to be one unit, not four families. He has a truly cantabile tone at figure 88. The trombones con sordini, three bars before 92 are truly sinister. The violas at 94 are, as Walton instructed, appassionato vibrato espressivo. The concluding maestoso does not fall apart as with Haitink and Rattle's pitiful performances but is given a logical reading where no continuity or momentum is lost.

The finale also begins maestoso and is robust, as it should be. The brioso fulfils the composer's intentions, the fugato is focosamente whereas I have not encountered this detail before. Thomson captures the spritely bounce of the vivacissimo and when the build-up begins a heightened expectancy results. The attack of both timpanists in the final maestoso is electrifying. The trumpet solo at 140 sounds a bit like The Last Post. The final pages are triumphant.

Varii Capricci is Walton's last major orchestral score combining Mediterranean and Latin American styles. Originally it was a set of guitar pieces written for Julian Bream and entitled Bagatelles. But the orchestral version is very colourful and as well as the nervous energy we have some very beautiful melodies.


David Wright 




Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links
but you can also purchase

Return to Index