Walton: Symphony No.1

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No.1
PERFORMER: London Symphony Orchestra
There are performances that have plenty to offer as one-off concert experiences, but which probably wouldn’t stand much repetition on CD. This is one of them. Davis’s loving attention to phrasing gets some fine results, especially in the exquisite flute solo that opens the slow third movement. It is also clear that he sees this Symphony as an emotionally coherent whole: there’s no sense of a gulf between the end of the Andante and the finale, and the triumphant ending feels in every way a logical outcome. The solo trumpet’s sweet vibrato in the run-up to that ending won’t please every taste, but it is still good to hear it shaped so affectionately.


On the rhythmic level however Davis is less compelling. I missed the crisp articulation and high tension of the old LSO/Previn version. In the Previn, you can feel the energy even in the first pianissimo timpani role, and when the violins enter with their hushed, obsessive jagged rhythm the momentum is electrifying. It takes Davis rather longer to build up steam, and the energy can dissipate at the wrong places, notably in the huge, somewhat flabby allargandos towards the end of the first movement. Admittedly the Previn can be hard to take. There are moments where one might wish that he would let up just a little, often in the very passages where Davis performs best (like the opening of the slow movement). But it’s Previn who comes closest to Walton’s own description of this volcanic work: ‘jealously and hatred all mixed up with love’. Stephen Johnson