WORKS: Façade (complete extant numbers)
PERFORMER: Eleanor Bron, Richard Stilgoe (reciter); Nash Ensemble/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67239
The authoritative, published version of William Walton and Edith Sitwell’s entertainment did not crystallise until some 30 years after its first performance in a Chelsea drawing room in 1922. From 16 numbers on that occasion, it soon mushroomed to over 40, though the definitive Façade ended up mirroring the ‘seven-times-three’ grouping of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. In 1977, the composer rescued some of the rejected numbers as Façade 2, but that still left three further numbers, as well as another dozen whose music has not survived.
An early Nineties Dutch recording on Discover came up with 42 numbers, with the poems to the lost ones simply read on their own. This new Hyperion collection of the complete extant Façade amounts to 33 (plus the instrumental ‘Fanfare’), with the ‘extra’ ones inserted at artistically suitable places within Façade 1 and with the texts to the lost numbers reproduced in the booklet.
Eleanor Bron is a seasoned façadiste and has obviously modelled her enunciation on Dame Edith herself (‘The Octogenarian’ even has a distinctive whiff of Margaret Thatcher in oleaginous mode). I’m less happy with Richard Stilgoe’s contribution: the patter in his opening ‘Hornpipe’ lacks the confidence of Peter Pears (Decca) and he indulges in too many faux accents, from rustic to Scots. The Nash, as one would expect, is second to none in this music, extracting every last whiff of wit and textural audacity, qualities it also finds in the incidental music that Constant Lambert wrote for the first British production of Wilde’s Salomé in 1931. Swings and roundabouts, then, but for a definitive Façade 1 you can’t go wrong with mid-Fifties Sitwell, Pears and the English Opera Group Ensemble conducted by Anthony Collins, even if it is in mono. Matthew Rye