> William Walton [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade, Suites Nos I & II
Viola Concerto
Variations on a Theme by Hindemith
Paul Neubauer (viola)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Rec March 1996, Guildhall, Southampton
DECCA 470 200 2 [71.30]

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This Walton disc from Decca's enterprising British Music Collection includes the instrumental suites drawn from Façade, and two works connected with another giant of 20th music, Paul Hindemith. After the headstrong Lionel Tertis had rejected the Viola Concerto, the premiere was rescued by Hindemith, who was a talented violist as well as a major composer. Walton never forgot this, and when he was asked to compose an orchestral work for the Royal Philharmonic Society's 150th Anniversary in 1963, he wrote a set of variations on a theme taken from Hindemith's Cello Concerto.

The Variations on a Theme of Hindemith is one of the best pieces Walton composed during the later stages of his career (he had just turned sixty at the time). The orchestral writing is assured, so too the balance of material imaginatively drawn from the source. It is a veritable orchestral showpiece, which only the best orchestras dare perform. In this new recording the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which like Britain's other regional orchestras is an international orchestra which happens to be based in the regions, confirms its stature. The playing is assured, though Andrew Litton's performance might have been a little more unbuttoned had the players known the music more intimately. The recorded sound is very good, since Southampton Guildhall has an excellent acoustic for recordings.

Paul Neubauer is an agile soloist in the Viola Concerto, which is among Walton's handful of greatest achievements. The recorded balance with the orchestra feels absolutely right, and he is not over-lit, as string soloists can often be when recordings are made. The performance has a real sense of ebb and flow, of tension and relaxation, and only in terms of the soloist's richness of tone does the performance give ground to the competition, such as Nigel Kennedy's pairing with the Violin Concerto (EMI). This issue is most noticeable in the slower music, of course.

The remaining music is a compilation put together by Andrew Litton from the two instrumental suites Walton took from Façade. His preference is to combine them in his own order, which is clearly explained in the listing of movements. These suites have plenty of solo opportunities, and the Bournemouth players relish them. Whether the music is really worth hearing in this arrangement is open to debate (I hope other people enjoy it more than I do); certainly it seems a pale shadow of the original, in which the witty delivery of the two narrators adds another dimension. Take them away and the music seems short of personality and wit, like a sandwich without the filling.

Decca provides detailed access points for all three works, including each individual variation. However, the booklet as a whole is carelessly, even thoughtlessly, put together. Why print the notes in minuscule typescript when one page is left almost totally blank, and two more contain nothing more useful than a list of other issues in the series and the 'British Music Collection' logo? Insert booklets form an important part of the package for the CD-buying public, but sometimes it seems the companies either don't realise this or don't care enough to address even the most simple solutions to the challenge in hand.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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