Kirill Karabits conducts Walton’s ‘notoriously tricky’ Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Walton
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Walton
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4168

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Walton’s First Symphony is no longer considered the kind of severe technical challenge to an orchestra that it used to be. Even so, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s delivery of the score is a tribute to the standard that can be taken for granted from today’s players: one notoriously tricky passage after another (eg for violas at 2:18 in the first movement) is brought off with top-flight panache and accuracy. Walton used to insist that keeping the first movement on a tight rein was essential to prevent its cumulative firepower from peaking too soon: Kirill Karabits achieves this remarkably, then unleashes a thrilling surge from the reprise to the final bars. Brilliant precision in the Scherzo, successful avoidance of over-emotive juice-extraction in the slow movement, an immaculately paced finale, and warm and super-clear sound-quality all contribute to a recording that’s something special.

Unfortunately this form doesn’t extend to the Second Symphony, which Karabits seems to think deals in the same kind of big-scale rhetoric as the First. The music’s ultra-deft, rapier-like precision is blunted by Karabits’s choice of first-movement tempo, a sizeable notch slower than the Allegro molto that’s indicated. (True, the needlepoint technical demands are therefore less extreme, but this orchestra can evidently take those in its stride anyway.) The second movement’s whimsical-to-melancholic range of emotional light and shade here comes across as portentous, and the finale’s verve is allowed to stray too close to over-loud bombast. Sadly, an opportunity missed. 

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Malcolm Hayes