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Vaughan Williams • Walton: Symphony No. 1 etc (Four Hands)

Lynn Arnold, Charles Matthews (piano) (Albion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Vaughan Williams • Walton
Vaughan Williams: Suite for Four Hands; Walton: Symphony No. 1; Crown Imperial (arr. H Murill))
Lynn Arnold, Charles Matthews (piano)
Albion ALBCD047   61:50 mins


The main attraction here, I suspect, will be the premiere recording of Suite for Four Hands, a very early Vaughan Williams work written in 1893 when he was studying composition under Parry. Stolidly German in style, its ‘Prelude’ is an unashamed essay in pompous Baroque-style grandeur à la Handel or Bach – the kind Poulenc would affectionately guy decades later in his Organ Concerto. Beethoven’s influence brings some harmonic surprises in the following ‘Minuet’, and while the ‘Sarabande’ reverts to a heavy Handelian manner, the final ‘Gigue’ combines Brahms-like playfulness with a touch of Strauss-style chromaticism, the result sounding surprisingly close to Elgar. While there is absolutely no hint of his characteristic style to come, it is interesting to hear VW’s starting point as a composer.

With Walton’s First Symphony (though I concur with VW in thinking the finale not up to the extraordinary quality of the rest), we have an undoubted mature masterpiece. But Herbert Murrill’s four-hand transcription, masterly though it may be, is something of a curate’s egg and really brings home the fact that Walton was above all an orchestral composer. The opening pages especially are about as effective at conjuring the original as a Brownie box camera would be for recreating a Hollywood epic. On the other hand, once the harmonic gears begin to grind in the first movement, the performance becomes compelling, and the rest of the Walton tracks, including Crown Imperial, give much pleasure thanks to the excellent playing of Lynn Arnold and Charles Matthews.


Daniel Jaffé