Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Sir William WALTON Hamlet. As You Like It  Michael Sheen (Narrator) RTÉ Concert Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny NAXOS 8.553344 [52:43]


Crotchet (UK)

William Walton and Laurence Olivier first met in 1936 when Olivier co-starred in Paul Czinner's production of As You Like It with Elizabeth Bergner, Czinner's wife. In 1943 Olivier decided to put his Henry V on film and approached Walton to write the music. This was the first of three films on which Walton and Olivier collaborated together; the others were Hamlet, written in 1947 and released in 1948, and Richard III in 1955. The association was a happy one and Olivier said of Walton's music. 'I have always said that if it was not for the music, Henry V would not have been the success it was.'

Hamlet contained about fifty minutes of music from which Muir Mathieson, musical director of the film and a long-standing friend of the composer, edited two concert works: an orchestral poem called "Hamlet and Ophelia", and the "Funeral March", containing music from the opening and closing titles. Malcolm Sargent also collected and arranged isolated fanfares into a piece entitled Fanfare for a Great Occasion. In her book William Walton, Behind the Façade Susana, Lady Walton, lists the score of Hamlet (with a few exceptions) as one of Walton's missing scores. Nevertheless, the late Christopher Palmer, who served Walton so well as an arranger, has given us a forty-minute work entitled Hamlet (A Shakespeare Scenario in Nine Movements for Large Orchestra). These movements are 'Prelude;' 'Fanfare and Soliloquy,' in which Michael Sheen ably recreates the 'O! that this too too solid flesh would melt.' soliloquy; 'The Ghost;' 'Hamlet and Ophelia;' 'The Question,' which incorporates 'To be or not to be;' again spoken by  Michael Sheen; 'The Mousetrap;' 'The Players-Entry of the Court;' 'The Play;' 'Ophelia's Death;' 'Retribution and Threnody;' and 'Finale (Funeral March)'. Some have called this music 'even finer than its predecessor, especially in the delicate use of motifs such as the poignant theme associated with Ophelia' (Gilliam Widdicombe, 1984, sleeve notes to the EMI LP entitled William Walton, Music for Shakespeare Films). I cannot agree, considering Henry V to be one of the finest of all film scores, but am profoundly grateful to have this music to add to the Walton discography.

All of the music in Hamlet displays the tragic nature of Shakespeare's play. 'The Ghost' is highly effective and eerie, as Hamlet becomes more agitated and bent on revenge, and the final moments of the Queen's retelling of Ophelia's death are decidedly poignant. The suite concludes with a threnody to those who have died and the 'Finale'-a dead march which incorporates elements of the opening Prelude.

The surprise on this CD was the suite from As You Like It, the second of four films Walton scored for Paul Czinner. The five movements of Christopher Palmer's suite (subtitled A Poem for Orchestra after Shakespeare), arranged in 1989 and played without break, are 'Prelude,' 'Moonlight,' 'Under the Greenwood Tree,' 'The Fountain,' and 'The Wedding Procession.' Appropriately satirical and pastoral, suiting the mood of the play, this is charming music written shortly after the completion of Walton's monumental 1st symphony. The French horn is effectively used in 'Moonlight,' which features exquisite use of key changes to suggest shifting light textures against a nocturnal background. Under the Greenwood Tree, omitted from the film, is restored here as the third movement sung by an unnamed soprano. 'The Fountain' depicts a delicate fountain, growing livelier, leading to the final 'Wedding Procession,' the sort of music at which Walton excels, as he was later to show in the 'Crown Imperial' and 'Orb and Sceptre'  marches and such works as 'The Johannesburg Festival Overture.' This is splendid and unexpected Walton-a real find.

Andrew Penny and the RTÉ (Radio Telefís Éireann) Concert Orchestra give a good accounting on this fine CD. My only quibble would be the soprano in 'Under the Greenwood Tree,' whose voice was perhaps not quite up to the quality of the orchestral accompaniment and why I awarded four-and-a-half stars instead of five.


Jane Erb


Jane Erb

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