> Walton Centenary Edition Decca [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William WALTON (1902-1983)
The Walton Centenary Edition
Symphony No. 1 (1932-35) [45.02]
Symphony No. 2 (1956) [28.09]
Cello Concerto (1956) [28.37]
Violin Concerto (1940) [31.47]
Scapino (1939) [8.07]
Facade Suites Nos 1 and 2 (1922) [21.56]
Hindemith Variations (1963) [24.37]
Crown Imperial (1937) [6.57]
Belshazzar's Feast (1930) [33.45]
Coronation Te Deum (1953) [10.26]
Henry V Suite (1943, 1945) [16.46]
Orb and Sceptre (1953) [7.43]
Robert Cohen (cello)
Tasmin Little (violin)
Paul Neubauer (viola)
Bryn Terfel (bar)
Waynflete Singers, L'Inviti, Choir of Winchester Cathedral
Bournemouth SO/Andrew Litton
rec Nov 1993, Guildhall, Southampton (Cello; Sym 1); Mar 1994, (Scapino, Violin Sym 2); Mar 1996 (Viola, Façade, Hindemith), Winchester Cathedral, Feb 1995, May 1991 (Henry V, Marches, Belshazzar) DDD
DECCA The British Music Collection 470 508-2 [4CDs: 73.57+68.31+71.25+78.51]



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The Bournemouth Orchestra have long had a special place in my affections. In the early 1970s, while studying at Bristol they were the orchestra I heard month after month at the Colston Hall. These were the Berglund years, as ripely vintage as the Järvi years in Glasgow in the early 1990s with the (then) SNO. I also heard people like Reinhard Peters and Volker Wangenheim - the former in Schumann; the latter in Bruckner. Before that I heard the orchestra in Torquay and Exeter in Brahms, Sibelius (5) and Tchaikovsky. This was long before Andrew Litton appeared on the scene.

In the First Symphony this version projects a taut singing tension (5.02 in I) which lacks the vividness by comparison with Handley's EMI Classics recording from the 1990s with the same orchestra. Make no mistake this is a performance with vibrant strengths and it is piloted by Litton as if driven by vengeful furies. On this basis I wonder why his Shostakovich (to be heard on Dorian and Delos) has not been more successful. To get a representative impression of this version sample the finale which is white hot with a fusion of voices from Sibelius's Fourth, Debussy's La Mer and Vaughan Williams' Fourth. I hope I am not being too obvious in suggesting that this version would sit well with the 1930s symphonies of Roy Harris, William Schuman, Creston and Peter Mennin. Litton is an American and even if he has not explored the repertoire of his homeland the similarities are patent. Is it any coincidence that another American, André Previn also produced the reference version of the Symphony now on a BMG double.

Cohen's Cello Concerto is dashing and studiedly poetic rather than wildly impassioned. He has a fevered edgy tone but in the flanking slower movements Cohen and Litton are able to capture a sweetly rhapsodic reflection. I confess I have not heard such an explosive expostulation as is conjured up by Litton at 6.13 in the Tema ed improvvisazioni. Does it all add up? I remain to be convinced but not because of Litton rather because, like the Viola Concerto, I feel that Walton missed the compulsive passion and durability that for me is radiant throughout the Violin Concerto and the Sinfonia Concertante.

Scapino was written for the Frederick Stock's Chicagoans. It is picaresque, jazzy, ardent and tense in the manner of Arthur Benjamin's Overture to an Italian Comedy, Bernstein's Candide Overture and Bax's Overture to a Picaresque Comedy. Litton's approach is high voltage, dashing and meaty.

The Violin Concerto enjoys the same beefy audio 'attack' and concrete impact as the other discs. Nothing is apologetic or softened. Tasmin Little (well known and loved for her advocacy of British works) strikes me as having learnt something from the febrile impassioned relentlessness of Ida Haendel whose own version of the Walton concerto (again with Bournemouth though this time with Berglund) is amongst the finest of versions alongside Accardo and the even more frantic vibrato of Francescatti on Sony). Now come on Tasmin please team up with Handley and give us a world-beating version of the Bax and Moeran concertos!

The Second Symphony bears witness to the continuing Americanisation of the Walton idiom - perhaps understandable given the adulation he attracted from Cleveland's Georg Szell whose foundation-dedicatee recording has recently been reissued on Sony. Melodrama and the sort of angst we expect from a Schuman or Hartmann score are to be found here. Apart from the fact that the black melodrama of the start of the finale sounds bleached out beside the rapacious tension of the Szell version this is well worth hearing if still bowing to the Previn EMI recording from the early 1970s. Litton does not bend every bar in the direction of Transatlantic anxiety. The Lento assai middle movement sounds much more Elgarian than I have previous heard. A surprise.

The Te Deum and Belshazzar's Feast were recorded in Winchester Cathedral and benefit from its lively reverberation. This is exploited rather than allowed free rein. The choirs are very well drilled in Belshazzar and their precision deserves praise especially given the fact that they sound large and massed. Bryn Terfel and Litton have the knack of suggesting great breadth and expanse. In fact the work proceeds no more slowly than most versions. Terfel revels in the work's many challenges and his wondrous breath control and steadiness, as well as a voice of molasses and amontillado, make this a very strong contender. I rather prefer it over the Willcocks version but the Previn and Shirley-Quirk EMI Classics of the early 1970s is still better. The choral contribution in the closing celebrations (which can often seem a disappointment after the earlier hymning of the pagan Gods!) is tumultuously overpowering yet always in control.

The choir is less well drilled and coordinated in the Te Deum though they convince utterly at the close. Never have I heard the final section of the work done with such meditative concentration and hushed tension slowly released. I compared this with EMI's 1970s recording of Frémaux and the City of Birmigham Symphony Orchestra. That disc (still available on CD) had the two marches, Te Deum and the Gloria. Disc 4 in this Decca set has the same works (excluding the Gloria but adding Belshazzar and the Henry V suite.

The Decca recording from a quarter century later is more natural but the EMI recording is a delight with clever balances analytically bringing out hosts of instrumental detail in the marches which in the Decca case are resolved into the generality. Gramophone's Edward Greenfield came up with the enviably adroit phrase for the two marches: 'shatteringly apt displays of pomp and circumstance'. In the hands of Litton and the BSO the two marches are as splendid as you might wish with slam, swing and impact. You will have been spoilt though if you know the Frémaux versions not so much because of the performances but because the EMI recording intriguingly reveals more detail amid the ringing magnificence and splendid wash of purple sound. Incidentally am I alone in regarding the years Frémaux had with the CBSO as a vintage era? Had he lived until a coronation of Charles III, would Walton really have called the 'third' coronation march Bed Majestical? Somehow I doubt it though we might, in the light of Royal events of the last twenty years, muse quizzically on the prospect and the resonances of such a title.

CD3 (Façade Suites, Viola Concerto and Hindemith Variations) has been issued as an individual disc in the same series (470 511-2). I rather wish the Façades had been dropped and that jazzy Cinderella work, the Sinfonia Concertante had been included. That said these Façade sequences are suitably sultry-sleazy. A smaller ensemble might have yielded even greater satisfaction. Façade does not need the deep pile of a large number of instruments. It does not translate well to full orchestra. However if you would like to sample the orchestral version this is very good benefiting from Litton's patent sympathy with the jazziness and an aura of Weill, the Berliner and Auric the Parisian.

The, for me, problematic Viola Concerto is given a strong account by everyone; not least the little heard of Paul Neubauer. Neubauer should have far more attention as his BBC broadcast (circa 1980) of the Arthur Benjamin Viola Sonata shows. He really should be snapped up to record Stanley Bate's and Arthur Butterworth's Viola Concertos. His tone is slender and shapely and he responds as well to the two poetic buttressing movements of the Walton as to the fairy-tale fantasy of the superb central Vivo (this tripartite slow-fast-slow seems to have been an English thing - viz the Delius and Moeran concertos). The skilful pointillism and playfulness of the Hindemith fleshes out the third disc of the set. Its juxtaposition with the Viola Concerto is apt given that Hindemith premiered the Concerto when it was disdained by Lionel Tertis. You can still hear Szell's CBS version of the Variations on an all-Walton Sony collection. Litton spins things along at riptide speed - glittering and glinting yet singing too. Recordings are not numerous but this modern version is the one to go for both on technical and artistic grounds.

By the way you can banish any doubts about a 'provincial' orchestra, Bournemouth cast those contemptuously aside years ago with their golden EMI recordings of Silvestri's In the South and Berglund's Kullervo.

All the sung words are printed in the booklet - not to be taken for granted in this Decca series. The notes, which are apt and useful, are variously by Diana McVeagh (will her Finzi biography ever see the light of day?), Kenneth Chalmers (a regular for this series), Michael Kennedy and Raymond McGill.

Packaging is economical but smart. A card flap box of moderate stiffness houses a single booklet and four CDs each in its own sombre heraldic sleeve. The approach is similar to that in the EMI Classics boxes of Vaughan Williams symphonies (Boult) and Sibelius symphonies (Berglund Helsinki).

These are cracking performances and recordings replete with a myriad details that will please and enthral. Recording quality is in Decca's best and healthiest digital tradition. The bargain price makes the whole thing irresistible. If your collecting and listening during the nineteen-nineties denied you the full price issues now is your moment.
Rob Barnett


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