overture, Portsmouth Point, receives
what must be the benchmark reading on
this disc. Zappy and brimming over with
life, the LPO plays its heart out for
the composer. Rhythms are spot-on and
angular melodies bristle with energy.
The work was inspired by an etching
by Thomas Rowlandson (http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1811pmth.jpg)
and the music captures to perfection
the colourful hustle and bustle of the
sketch. Portsmouth Point was
Walton’s first successful orchestral
work and it is not hard to hear why.
The music is full of infectious, jazzy,
spiky rhythms à la Stravinsky.
If Portsmouth Point
signified an important juncture in Walton’s
professional life, the Sinfonia Concertante
of a couple of years later (though revised
in 1943) is heavily influenced by the
Stravinsky of Petrushka - to
the extent that Walton played the score
(intended at that point for the stage)
to Diaghilev. Alas Diaghilev rejected
the score, so it became a concert work,
premiered in 1928 (with Ernest Ansermet
conducting and York Bowen as the soloist).
The work is in three movements, each
dedicated to one of the Sitwells (Osbert,
Edith and Sacheverell, ‘Sachie’), although
these dedications were deleted on the
work’s revision. The angular fun of
the first movement is superbly caught
by Peter Katin and the LSO, who seem
to point out aurally Michael Kennedy’s
assertion that the figures of Ravel
and Poulenc are hovering in the background.
The ‘Andante comodo’ slow movement is
lovely (it could so easily become mushy,
though, and all credit to Katin and
the composer for disallowing this);
the finale (complete with the directive,
‘sempre scherzando’) represents Walton
at his brightest.
Note I use the term
‘brightest’ as opposed to ‘brashest’.
That epithet could more usefully be
applied to the Capriccio Burlesco,
commissioned by the New York Philharmonic
for its 125th anniversary
(it is dedicated to André Kostelanetz,
who conducted the première in
New York). Michael Kennedy in his notes
suggests that, like Scapino,
this work evokes Rossini. Personally
I find Bernstein, especially in unbuttoned
filmic mode, springing more readily
to mind. Capriccio Burlesco breathes
an exuberance that makes it the perfect
way to round off the disc.
Scapino is one
of Walton’s most popular works. Scapino
is a commedia dell’arte figure
(actually Harlequin’s servant). The
work opens in a blaze of bright light.
It is, as Kennedy rightly says in his
notes, ‘Walton’s Till Eulenspiegel’,
trombone glissandi and rumbustious scoring
adding up to an enervating outing. A
contrasting section, representing Scapino
the lover, is marked ‘come una serenata’.
The more lyrical passages are sensitively
shaped and phrased.
Originally a sequence
of piano duets, Walton’s Music for
Children is a set of ten short,
charming movements. Not the first composer
to base a piece on a five-finger piano
exercise, Walton’s ‘The Music Lesson’
(the first movement) is unutterably
sweet. There is much cheeky music within
these movements; but also some melancholy,
as in the near-static (very) miniature
tone-poem ‘The Silent Lake’. Kennedy
is quite right to assert that the final
movement (added to the original piano
duets), ‘Trumpet Tune’, is ‘a miniature
The more expansive,
reflective side of Walton is represented
by the brief Siesta of 1926,
scored for chamber orchestra. Within
its five-minute span it conjures up
a worry-free world of blue skies and
Finally, a curiosity.
Walton wrote the music for The Quest,
a ballet, in double-quick time during
the war, for Sadler’s Wells. The score
was then lost for a period of time before
resurfacing in a North London warehouse
in 1958. The four-movement Suite was
put together, with the help of Vilem
Tausky, in 1961 (this was its first
stereo recording). The second movement,
‘The Spell’ (a gentle siciliana) is
particularly beautiful, while Walton
the conductor brings out the humour
of ‘The Challenge’. This is a delightful
quarter-hour’s worth of music.
It is highly impressive
that Lyrita has managed to present so
many different sides of Walton within
the scope of a single disc. The recording
mirrors the excellence of the performances.