Bliss • Walton
Lorraine McAslan (violin); BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates
Dutton CDLX 7342 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The Walton Violin Concerto almost always heard today is not the original 1939 score, but its later revision. Marooned in England by the Second World War, Walton had to miss the work’s first performance by Jascha Heifetz in America. After himself conducting the British premiere, he re-worked the orchestration, in places substantially, while leaving the solo part unchanged. While Heifetz recorded the first version in 1941, Dutton’s release has the advantage of modern sound. Is this original version ‘better’? It depends on your preference. The general sound is a touch more astringent and penetrating, with a less dominant, though still evident Italianate ‘glow’ reflecting the sunlit surroundings of the work’s creation. One may regret Walton’s near-total omission of the original percussion writing: the clicking castanets in the whirling alla napolitano scherzo movement, for instance, here seem a real asset.
Lorraine McAslan’s response to the solo part’s Heifetz-satisfying technical demands is as fine as her bombproof tuning and warm, not over-sumptuous tone and expression. But the orchestra’s accompaniment under Martin Yates, while stylish and colourful, needs a tighter level of ensemble. No such reservation applies to their handling of Bliss’s Violin Concerto (written in 1955 for Alfredo Campoli), and McAslan’s contribution is state-of-the-art. Not even this level of performance can compensate for the work’s prolix idiom and, at nearly 45 minutes, excessive length – the product of a wonderfully fluent and gifted composer with, seemingly, a blind spot in this department.
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