WORKS: The Bear; Façade; The Wise Virgins
PERFORMER: Monica Sinclair, John Shaw, Norman Lumsden, Fenella Fielding, Michael Flanders; ECO/James Lockhart, Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner, City of Birmingham SO/Louis Frémaux
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73998 2 ADD Reissue (1967-77)
Commissioned for the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival, Walton’s one-act ‘extravaganza’ The Bear was written while he was still licking the metaphorical wounds of the critical flop of his ‘grand opera’ Troilus and Cressida and nursing the literal scars of a lung cancer operation. Listening to this reissue of the original cast recording one can’t help feeling that opera was not really Walton’s métier: most of the interest is in the small orchestra and a lot of the writing is (admittedly brilliant) pastiche. The singing cast on this recording is decidedly ‘Oratorio School of ’65’, the conducting workaday. Sample Hickox’s rival and much better sung recording and the piece immediately comes to life.
Façade defines Twenties England, but this performance is rather too smooth, too Sixties, Fielding’s gorgeous silk-stocking voice too seductive for this witty, pithy masterpiece. Go to Edith Sitwell and the razor-sharp Peter Pears for the authentic Twenties experience. A fine performance of Wise Virgins. Andrew Clements