WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Belshazzar’s Feast; Violin Concerto; Viola Concerto; Partita for Orchestra; Facade Suites; The Wise Virgins; Portsmouth Point
PERFORMER: Yehudi Menuhin (violin, viola), Donald Bell (baritone); Philharmonia Chorus, ISO, Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia, Sadler’s Wells Orchestra/William Walton
CATALOGUE NO: CHS 5 65003 2 ADD mono/stereo (1940-69)
This is an important and invaluable collection of most of Walton’s major scores recorded for EMI by die composer between 1940 and 1969. Loving care has been taken in these refurbishments so that all the authority, exhilaration and the power and subtleties of Walton’s readings can now be fully appreciated. Most of the recordings are with the Philharmonia Orchestra, although the earliest here, of the Bach transcriptions for The Wise Virgins, including Sheep May Safely Graze, was made with the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra.
As a conductor, Walton had a charming and relaxed way with musicians so that they warmed to him and gave him of their best. He came to be regarded, in die years covered by these recordings, as the leading interpreter of his own music.
Importantly, from the original tapes, we now have a fresh realisation of the 1951 recording of the First Symphony that is a major advance on the sound of the original issue. It is a revelation. All the restless energy and the withering anger are here in the early movements, but one is also more keenly aware of a vulnerability and a gnawing anguish. And die finale, by contrast, is that much more assertive and thrillingly positive.
The 1959 stereo recording of Belshazzar’s Feast also sounds freshly minted and thrilling, with brass and percussion making a tremendous impact. Donald Bell is darkly commanding and die Philharmonia Chorus have verve and attack. It has to be said, though, dial Walton’s 1943 recording of the work with Dennis Noble, again for EMI, was more electrifying.
This more youdiful energy and vitality was carried over into Walton’s truly hair-raising 1950 RCA recording of his Violin Concerto with Heifetz (its dedicatee): dazzling, fiery and passionate. The EMI 1969 recording widi Menuhin has much better sound, of course. Although exciting enough, it is more relaxed, more deeply felt and Menuhin is warmer and radiandy Romantic — he is also glorious in the Viola Concerto.
It is thrilling to hear Laurence Olivier declaim diose stirring lines from Henry Vover what must be one of the most celebrated film scores -and there is the bonus of seven minutes of the music unavailable since the immediate postwar 78s release. As well as a stirring Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, there are valuable excerpts from Richard IIIand a fuller, more satisfying Funeral March from Hamlet than in the recent Chandos reconstruction.
Also included is die sparkle and wit of the 1957 Facade Suites reading, and die stately nobility of die two Coronation Marches. It is a pity that EMI have not given us dieir complete ‘Walton conducts Walton’ discography, omitting exciting earlier recordings (such as die Viola Concerto widi William Primrose). Nevertheless, this set should be in die collection of any serious lover of British music. Ian Lace