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Hyperion Records

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Sir William Turner Walton (1948) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975)
© Estate of Michael Ayrton / National Portrait Gallery, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67794
Recording details: November 2010
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: July 2011
Total duration: 28 minutes 26 seconds

'The BIS version is highly recommendable … but the new issue regularly outshines it in bite and romantic passion. This version of the iconic First Symphony even rivals the version that Andre Previn and the LSO recorded for RCA in 1966, a classic account that has comfortably stood the test of time … the whole disc is a credit not only to the conductor but also to the quality of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which can stand comparison with any rival' (Gramophone)

'The dazzling brilliance and menacing darkness in Walton’s First Symphony are astutely caught here by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins … the dazzling brilliance and menacing darkness in Walton’s First Symphony are astutely caught here by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Not for a while have I heard a new Walton First to put alongside the top entries … but this muscular performance, built around a dark string presence, stentorian brass, and bright woodwinds, qualifies … [but] the real wonder of this disc is the Second … if you are looking for a disc with both Walton symphonies, Brabbins is the clear choice over Charles MacKerras and Owain Arwel Hughes' (American Record Guide)

'During the last 40-50 years, rival versions of Walton's music have come and gone, but in the case of his symphonies, it is Previn and Szell who have seemingly remained unassailable—until now, for this new Martyn Brabbins disc is fully the equal of its distunguished predecessors and in certain details is superior to either … it is, quite simply, the sound of the orchestra in your living room—with nothing in between. For this, engineer Simon Eadon deserves the highest praise and, with Andrew Keener as producer, the result is a disc of incomparible sonic and musical quality' (International Record Review)

'Brabbins's account is a reminder that for all its derivative elements and bombast, Walton One is a powerful musical statement in its own right … the three-movement Second Symphony belongs to a very different emotional world, though flashes of the First's irascibility occasionally surface. Brabbins extracts all of the necessary orchestral glitter and swagger from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra … as a neat pairing of Walton's two symphonies on a single disc, this really can't be bettered' (The Guardian)

'Both of William Walton's symphonies are superbly orchestrated testaments to the ardour, romance and bitterness in the composer’s soul … Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish are thrilling champions' (The Times)

'Anyone tempted by both symphonies on a single disc need not hesitate' (The Sunday Times)

'Brabbins leaves us in no doubt about his expert touch in this repertoire. He gets lean, clean results from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, maintaining tension and momentum in a way that showcases the music’s virtuosic dynamism … Brabbins’ sheer conviction should win them new admirers' (Financial Times)

Symphony No 2
begun 1956, completed July 1960; commissioned by Liverpool Philharmonic Society for the 750th anniversary of the city's charter of incorporation; first performed at Edinburgh Festival by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under John Pritchard on 2 Sept 1960

Allegro molto  [9'06]
Lento assai  [10'12]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Like Elgar, Walton wrote only two symphonies. Elgar’s first in 1908 was a triumphant success, as Walton’s was to be. Elgar’s second, of 1911, was coldly received. Walton’s Symphony No 2 came after a gap of twenty-five years and was also greeted with not much more than muted enthusiasm. It was commissioned in 1956 by the Liverpool Philharmonic Society to celebrate the 750th Anniversary of the granting of a charter of incorporation to Liverpool. Receipt of this commission coincided with the first performance in January 1957 of his Cello Concerto. Many of the younger critics savaged the concerto, which they regarded as outmoded and of no interest. Walton now knew all about the ‘black sheep’!

Serious work on the symphony was delayed by completion of his Partita, commissioned by George Szell for the fortieth anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra. Szell was a long-standing champion of Walton’s music. The Partita had its first performance on 30 January 1958 and proved to be a brilliant tour de force, aptly described by its composer as ‘eminently straightforward and simple or even vulgar, too much perhaps, nevertheless designedly so’. It is difficult to perform but Szell obtained a dazzling performance. This left Walton clear to begin the symphony, but in February 1958 he told his publisher, Alan Frank, that ‘it is going so badly that I fear that I must start all over again’. A year later he reported that he had finished the first movement—‘it may eventually turn out to be not quite so intolerable as I have been suspecting’. Another year passed and in January 1960 he told Frank that he was feeling extremely low about it: ‘I suffer from nightmares of irate mayors and corporations.’ (Liverpool had expected the work in 1957.) In March, after showing the work to his friend the composer Hans Werner Henze, he was more optimistic, and he finished it in July 1960. The first performance was given not in Liverpool but at the Edinburgh Festival on 2 September by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Pritchard. Rehearsals had gone badly, the critics were lukewarm and EMI cancelled plans for a recording. Szell conducted the American premiere in New York in January 1961. Its success began the rehabilitation of Walton in the United States.

The symphony is in three movements. Only recently has it emerged from under the shadow of its predecessor. Walton was a different composer after 1945, technically more accomplished, emotionally more stable, less extravagant, more elusive. He was also an older, more experienced composer. One might draw a parallel with Strauss who in 1910 had poured his exuberance into Der Rosenkavalier but thirty years later, when covering something of the same ground in Capriccio, found a new way to express similar emotions. Walton’s scoring in the second symphony is far more refined than in the first, mellower and more exotic—vibraphone (although reserved for only one note in the coda of the slow movement), piano and celeste, which had found no place in the first symphony, here lend glitter and kaleidoscopic shimmering. Passion and boiling rage are still there, but more controlled. No notes are wasted. The first movement is compact and novel in structure, virtually monothematic, since all the themes are closely related, and it combines the functions of an opening Allegro and Scherzo. Trilling woodwind and explosive brass are thrilling Walton hallmarks treated freshly.

In the slow movement we are in the sound-world of the opera Troilus and Cressida (1947–54)—a Mediterranean nocturne. The woodwind’s principal theme might almost be a portrait of Cressida (who is probably a portrait of the composer’s wife Susana). The orchestration is as fastidious as any by Debussy or Ravel. The finale is in variation form, the theme being a twelve-note series, but there is nothing atonal about it. (In his opera The Turn of the Screw, Britten had the same idea.) The full orchestra announces the portentous theme. The variations are short, ingenious and mostly fast except for the eighth and ninth. Variation 10 provides a dramatic start to the second part of the movement by re-shaping the twelve-note theme as a jazzy fugato. A mysterious episode precedes the triumphant brass fanfares and hammered chords which end the symphony. It is difficult to understand today why this powerful and inventive work should ever have been considered as ‘the mixture as before’ or as a divertimento.

from notes by Michael Kennedy © 2011

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