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Walton: Piano Quartet, etc

Matthew Jones (violin), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola), Tim Lowe (cello), Annabel Thwaite (piano) (Naxos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Piano Quartet; Toccata in A minor; Two Pieces for Violin and Piano; Violin Sonata
Matthew Jones (violin), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola), Tim Lowe (cello), Annabel Thwaite (piano)
Naxos 8.573892   74:11 mins

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Listeners new to William Walton’s music would get a lopsided impression of his achievements from this sturdily performed collection covering all his chamber works featuring the violin and piano. From the bundle of early 20th-century influences romping through the teenage Walton’s Piano Quartet we reach the gnarled and ferocious Toccata (hard to enjoy, even harder to play), composed by a determined 1920s iconoclast. Jumping over Walton’s peak years, we pass through the wispy Two Piecesfrom the 1940s and land on his fussy if ardent Violin Sonata, receiver of mixed reviews following its 1950 London premiere. You could compare it all to the equivalent of a restaurant meal of teasing hors d’oeuvre and a comforting dessert, but lacking the chef’s signature dish.

Even so, it’s fascinating to hear Walton’s complex musical personality gradually form through imitation and experimentation, only to loosen after the Second World War. Violinist Matthew Jones and pianist Annabel Thwaite need all the finger fire at their command for the extravagantly ‘modern’ 1923 Toccata, the one work here with a limited outlet for the lyrically Romantic strand so pleasantly featured in the Piano Quartet. Walton later labelled that piece the product of a ‘drooling baby’, though he still regarded it fondly.

As for the Violin Sonata, the temperature of his creative imagination may have dropped, but you can’t deny magic moments like the finale’s fifth variation, all filigree beauty and wonderfully conveyed here. A vivid recording adds to the album’s rewards.

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Geoff Brown