AN INNOVATING CONSERVATIVE
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 07/02/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are only four 20th century British composers that I greatly like - Elgar, Delius, Britten and Walton. Two of these were mildly radical, and the other conservative, it seems to me, was Walton. This exciting set of reissues will give the maximum support to Walton-enthusiasts who take the opposite view of him from my own, but I doubt they could enjoy it more than I do. Crammed on to 2 cd's you will find the violin and cello concertos played by the luminaries who first commissioned them, the sinfonia concertante in its original form, an important recent (1994) account of the great viola concerto, and Previn's cult-status version of the 1st symphony. In the symphony and violin concerto the focus is on energy and vividness. Heifetz gives the revised version of the concerto with the Philharmonia under Walton himself in 1950. The liner-note makes no attributions to the sound-technicians, so let me pay them a few compliments whoever they were, and the sound is compatible enough for me to compare this unique account with my own favourite modern version by Nigel Kennedy with the RPO under Previn in 1987. The two readings are about as different as could be, but the difference is one of temperament not of technique or tempo. Heifetz is about 3 minutes quicker overall in a half-hour piece, which is surely neither here nor there. Kennedy easily passes the `Serkin test' - a great performance needs `personality', and believe me Kennedy is no assembly-line performer. For him the piece presents no technical challenges, and he emphasises the relaxed side where Heifetz is typically tense. It takes us back to the question - what is our `basic' view of Walton? With the symphony any performance that is not forceful and spiky would be a non-starter, and it is good to hear Previn's 1967 LSO account with the sound freshened up. The brass blast away as if this were Bartok or Shostakovich at their fiercest, and if you view Walton as a radical this is the performance for you. For me this symphony, for all its dissonance, is as faithful to the 19th century scheme as Elgar's are. Simultaneously with Previn there appeared a version from Sargent and the New Philharmonia with Walton himself involved in some way. Speeds are by and large similar but the overall impression is of grandeur rather than ferocity, and to this day I like it better in general. You can hear the difference in approach from the very first bar with the ultra-hushed and absolutely smooth timpani-roll from Sargent. Oddly, where Previn scores most, for me, is in the slow movement where he captures the loneliness and melancholy better, helped by a slower tempo. It's the Previn approach that has prevailed, and I don't think Sargent is now available.Previn is the conductor in both versions of the viola concerto that I own, using the 1962 reorchestration. Bashmet is more introverted and less serene than Kennedy, but both are first-rate. If it were just a matter of this one piece I would still recommend Kennedy who benefits from a fuller and richer recorded sound, but we are dealing here with an entire package also containing two concerto performances of unique authority. The package is completed by an interesting version of the sinfonia concertante in its original form, apparently preferred by Walton to his revised score, and the late and very un-radical cello concerto played by its dedicatee. This is probably not a work that arouses fierce disputes regarding the merits of alternative versions, and anyone owning the Piatigorsky account will likely leave it at that, especially as P is in his familiar partnership with Munch, not one to let a performance sag.I adore Walton. He did not change the language of music in any but superficial ways, but his genius was truly original and he performed a major act of mercy by jolting English music out of what Constant Lambert called the cowpat school, to which music-lovers of similar prejudices to mine are either deaf or wish we were - I operate to a crude rule of thumb that any composer who has inflicted musical settings on Housman or who has an excessive interest in English folk-music is a composer to avoid. As an early sign of Walton's fine discernment I note that he took exceptional measures to avoid being sent back to Oldham. Sound judge indeed."
L. Johan Modée | Earth | 02/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This fine twofer collects three unsurpassed interpretations of Walton's music and two other quite good interpretations as well.
The first is Previn's superb account of Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor - this hauntingly beautiful masterpiece - with London Symphony Orchestra. There is simply no better interpretation, so this is the one to have. Sound is good, though vintage stereo (1966).
The second is Jascha Heifetz' recording of the Violin Concerto, with Walton conducting. Heifetz commissioned the work from Walton, so what we have here is a classic musical collaboration. An essential and decent mono recording (1950).
The third is the Cello Concerto with Gregor Piatigorsky, another commissioner, Charles Munch conducting. The recording sessions took place soon after the world premiere in 1957. Again, we have a classic recording in fine old stereo sound.
In addition, throw in a good recording of the Viola Concerto (Bashmet & Previn, recorded all-digital in 1994) and a fine performance of the Sinfonia Concertante in the 1927 original version (Stott & Handley, recorded in 1989), and there is no reason for not purchasing this - indeed - essential set.