Walton: Viola Concerto; Symphony No. 2; Johannesburg Festival Overture

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COMPOSERS: Walton
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Viola Concerto; Symphony No. 2; Johannesburg Festival Overture
PERFORMER: Lars Anders Tomter (viola); English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553402 DDD
The opening bitter-sweet melody of Walton’s gloriously lyrical Viola Concerto must surely be regarded as one of the most memorable thematic ideas in the 20th-century repertoire. Its Romantic ardour is projected with obvious affection by the Norwegian virtuoso Lars Anders Tomter, whose superb performance of the Concerto ranks as one of the undoubted highlights of this first instalment in Naxos’s eagerly awaited Walton cycle. Tomter has a particular empathy for Walton’s idiom. His playing is intense, yet avoids any hint of over-indulgence, and he is supported by the English Northern Philharmonia under Paul Daniel, who come to the fore in the central Scherzo, a movement delivered with breathtaking rhythmic precision by both soloists and orchestra.

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Daniel and his players make an equally impressive showing in the Second Symphony. The interpretation emphasises the darker elements of the score, sometimes at the expense of the music’s brilliance, with the result that the finale perhaps lacks some of the malicious humour that is implied in Walton’s caustic send-up of 12-note composition. In this respect, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, on Sony Essential Classics, offer a more uninhibited approach, performing the work with greater virtuosity and with more apparent urgency. Nonetheless, Daniel’s performance is extremely involving and he enjoys the benefits of a superior recording made in Leeds Town Hall that achieves an admirable balance between warmth and clarity of detail. For all these reasons, this present release must be regarded as an outstanding bargain.