Walton: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2; Siesta
PERFORMER: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins

My colleague Michael Kennedy has put a lifetime’s thought and work into Walton’s music, and his booklet note here rightly trounces the still widespread notion that compared to the composer’s early works, the later ones are ‘in all essentials the mixture as before’. The Second Symphony is indeed an insistently different creation from its rampant predecessor – and in a way that can be elusive for even a conductor-and-orchestra team as skilled as this one to pin down. In the First Symphony’s more familiar territory, Brabbins never lets the music off the tight rein it requires, so that it sounds all the more powerful as a result: the ferocious climaxes are built and sustained with control, while the Andante con malinconia convincingly resists its usual tendency to sprawl. The playing – featuring what must be the finest trumpet section in these islands – is top-flight, and so is the recorded sound (in Glasgow’s City Hall). 
Siesta disappoints, however: the music’s wry dreaminess somehow isn’t captured, and the recorded balance seems a notch too close. The Second Symphony demands precision and virtuosity, and while even the most difficult passages, like the finale’s Fugato, are immaculately delivered here, the music’s sense of ‘spinning like a top’ (Kennedy again) doesn’t quite materialise. George Szell’s classic recording with the Cleveland Orchestra (Sony) is at present deleted; as is Andrew Litton’s with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. However the English Northern Philharmonia’s recording with Paul Daniel is still available. Malcolm Hayes