Walton: Symphony No.1; Cello Concerto

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WORKS: Symphony No.1; Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Lynn Harrell (cello); CBSO/Simon Rattle
Continuing its ‘British Composers’ series, EMI has here ingeniously coupled two contrasting masterpieces by Walton. The Symphony is the more familiar: its first three movements (premiered in 1934, before he composed the finale) still sound astonishingly violent and disturbing. Rattle’s conducting is well-paced and energetic, and the CBSO’s playing quite outstanding. The strings, in particular, give tremendous vitality to Walton’s jagged rhythms. I like Rattle’s cool approach to the slow movement: it is marked ‘con malinconia’ but can too often sound self-pitying. What I do miss, however, is the sheer fury of Previn’s famous 1966 LSO performance: Rattle is sometimes a bit polite. But he does produce a glorious account of the angst-free finale. It still doesn’t sound totally convincing, but as one of Walton’s friends said: ‘the trouble was that Willie changed girlfriends between movements’. By the time he came to write a concerto for Piatigorsky (completed in 1956), Walton’s temperament had been mellowed by the Mediterranean sun of his Ischia home. This is a lyrical work with roots in the English pastoral tradition (albeit via Prokofiev). Harrell is not quite so warm an advocate as Yo-Yo Ma or Raphael Wallfisch (nor so favoured by microphone placing), but again the orchestra plays superbly. Both recordings are good, though one might have wished for greater instrumental detail. Stephen Maddock