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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67587
Recording details: September 2006
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2007
Total duration: 24 minutes 51 seconds

'This was in many ways the breakthrough work in Walton's early career … Lawrence Power serves the work superbly … a superb disc, much to be welcomed' (Gramophone)

'Power's playing is stunningly precise, crisply articulated and beautifully projected, with no hint of the little scrambles and occasionally pinched tone that beset even quite famous rival recordings … as a substantial bonus, there are two rarities by Walton's underrated contemporary Edmund Rubbra … here Power's rich and even sound, secure intonation and eloquent phrasing confirm his place as successor to Lionel Tertis, Primrose and Riddle in the royal line of British violists' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Sumptuous playing from Lawrence Power … an excellent opportunity to savour the depth and richness of this Cinderella instrument' (The Observer)

'If proof were still needed of Lawrence Power's pre-eminence among viola-players, then this magnificent disc is it … the advantage of a true violist, rather than a violinist who doubles on the viola, is apparent in the flexibility of Power's tonal colouring and the ease with which he slips between the questing melody of the opening, the bright sound of the scherzo and the resignation of the epilogue. He is matched in playing of real bite and textural interest from Ilan Volkov's BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra … Power's identification with this music is complete, steering an expert course through the music's moods' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Lawrence Power's superb account of what is perhaps Walton's finest orchestral work … compels attention with its unfailing sense of line, rhythmic precision and varied range of colour. His choice of couplings is interesting too, for the 1952 Viola Concerto, by Walton's contemporary Edmund Rubbra, born a year earlier in 1901, is one of his most impressive works, with its long-limbed, introspective solo lines spun over restrained accompaniments. The solo-viola version of the Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn, a real tour de force from Power, appears on disc for the first time' (The Guardian)

'This is a greatly distinguished disc … these very different composers have each produced a masterly work, each of which receives here the finest performance I have heard of either score … [Walton] a new recording of the superior original orchestration is very welcome indeed. This new Hyperion disc is actually the first recording of it to have been made in stereo, and the richness of the original orchestration comes across in Andrew Keener's production with greater delicacy and impact than it has ever had before. The quality of the recording is one thing, but the engineers can capture only the performance taking place, and in this regard, and on this showing, Lawrence Power has to be counted as one of the finest masters of his instrument … he plays with a perfect sense of style and with a profound understanding of and insight into each score as well as a technical mastery and sure intonation which are wholly exceptional. In this, he is abetted by an orchestral contribution under the baton of a superbly gifted conductor. Ilan Volkov matches his soloist with a spontaneity and complete musical unity that … reveal this work to be a greater masterpiece than most of us have experienced until now … such richly poetic performances as these should be in everyone's record collection' (International Record Review)

'In the 21st century, one new name stands out, the British player Lawrence Power, and this disc swiftly tells us why. He's fleet-fingered. He's various: the changing hues never stop. He's effortlessly eloquent with a centred tone across his entire range … Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, incisive performers as usual, give us the 1929 sound: darker than we're now used to, sometimes acidic … the natural ease of Power's delivery makes for a commanding performance … Power's viola discourses with a warmth and fibre that makes Rubbra's musical argument seem always inevitable and always enjoyable. Above all, Power encourages Rubbra and the viola to sing. Their wallflower days are over' (The Times)

'Power's rich, elegiac tone is heard to wonderful advantage in the melancholic, slowish outer movements, but he has plenty of bite and dazzle in the central Vivo, con molto preciso, one of Walton's most brilliant 'malicious' scherzos … Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola (1960), here getting its first recording, deserves to be in the repertoire of all viola players. Power's deeply expressive playing makes it the heart and soul of this remarkable programme' (The Sunday Times)

'Lawrence Power is just that extra bit special, investing the work's tantalising vein of underlying nostalgia with an eloquence that perhaps only a true viola player can bring … Power seems, if anything, even more attuned to Rubbra's espressivo cool, illuminating the Concerto's neo-Romantic gestures with finely judged and restrained intensity. Yet it is the hypnotic concentration of the solo Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn that lingers longest in the memory here, enhanced by luxurious, velvet-toned engineering' (The Strad)

'This is music that is somehow virtuosic but not showy, bold and exuberant in places yet profoundly intimate, tinged with a nostalgic reflectiveness yet never merely self-indulgent. Lawrence Power magically combines the soulful intensity of Lionel Tertis with the quicksilver agility of that other British viola genuis, William Primrose. In Power's skilled hands the viola is transformed from the lumbering second-class citizen of legend into a sleek, fine-tuned, noble instrument of infinite grace and expressive subtlety. Walton is one of the few composers to have really understood the viola's unique inner voice and Power traces the music's emotional contours with unerring accuracy … the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under its gifted chief conductor, Ilan Volkov, also sounds utterly transported, illuminating Walton's and Rubbra's elusive musical idioms with playing of considerable accomplishment. The solo viola Meditations, here receiving their premiere recording, are no less captivating, and Power plays them like a lost masterwork. An outstanding release' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Power's radiant tone and electrifying power of projection make no apology for the robustness of both works. He captures the mercurial expression of the Walton brilliantly, its short scherzo bristling with nerve-tingling zest, its melancholic undertones tinged with an airiness that avoids sentimentality. Under Ilan Volkov, the SSO (in Walton's original, fuller version of the score) offers pungent support and nimble urgency in equal measure' (The Scotsman)

'Lawrence Power seems to be recording his entire repertoire, which is good news for viola lovers. William Walton's Viola Concerto was his best work, displaying all the features of his compositional skill, including a delightfully rhythmic central Scherzo' (Daily Mail)

'Both Power’s assured technique, and his tone – rich and grainy in its lower register, clear at the top – serves the character of all three works well, and Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra give him sympathetic support in the two concertos' (ClassicalSource.com)

'Dans les trois oeuvres, Lawrence Power, ancien lauréat du Concours international William Primrose et membre du célèbre Nash Ensemble, se montre à la hauteur, Il est habilement secondé par le très jeune chef israelien Ilan Volkov' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Viola Concerto
composer
1928/9; original version; first performed by Hindemith with the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra under Walton on 3 October 1929 and Queen's Hall, London

Andante comodo  [8'39]
Allegro moderato  [12'03]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Walton’s viola concerto (1928–9) was one of his most important early works. Sir Thomas Beecham had suggested that a piece by a rising star would attract the great British violist Lionel Tertis; finding that the score looked too ‘modern’, Tertis sent it back by return of post, though as soon as he heard the concerto he realized his mistake and became devoted to it. At the premiere in the Queen’s Hall, London, on 3 October 1929 the soloist with the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra and Walton conducting was a leading German musician, Paul Hindemith. In all friendship, Walton had to admit that despite a ‘marvellous technique’ Hindemith’s playing was ‘rough … He just stood up and played’.

The dreamy opening melody of the concerto can haunt the memory, and by the end it clearly has, for it is also given the last word, not least with its tiny figure bringing into closest contact the key’s major third and minor third; English music has always relished ‘scrunches’ of that kind. There is a good deal of action in this work, though even when Walton introduces a new idea he retains the moodiness of the opening; only later does the music spring suddenly into vigorous life in a stirring passage heard twice, either side of a curiously balletic one that could suggest moments in Façade. Before the opening mood returns, the soloist is briefly left alone to muse, with just a tremble of low strings in the background. That could be an echo of the ‘accompanied cadenza’ in Elgar’s violin concerto, something Rubbra’s viola concerto shows in a more developed form. Music from the opening rounds out a haunting first movement, with the viola’s filigree against the original melody a lovely touch.

The four-minute scherzo is a master-stroke, brilliant from first note to last. One bright idea in the 1920s, with ‘Back to Bach’ a catchword, was the ‘toccata style’, and the ever-bustling Hindemith was one of the better youngish composers who touched their cap to the idea. He must have relished the fast-moving passages in the middle of the concerto’s first movement, and then this scherzo, though in Walton’s ‘toccata’ manner the vigour is less a matter of bustle than of the sort of joie de vivre that pervades Portsmouth Point.

At the start of the finale the hectic pace has abated to merely brisk and perky. Walton, like Faust, has ‘two souls dwelling in his breast’; one would build to a triumphant climax, the other longs to rediscover his true self as the sensitive young man with a fetching touch of melancholy, whose ‘enfant terrible’ appearance was simply part of his charm. Reconciliation of those two souls gives the finale its quality, for while either is in the ascendant one is firmly convinced that it must gain the upper hand. As a secondary idea the major-/minor-third motif soon reappears transformed, without its bittersweet major third, and the bassoon tune from the opening keeps trying to start things up again. At times we are not far from that ‘last resort of a desperate composer’, a fugue—complete with augmentation of the bassoon theme. There is an orchestral interlude of well-nigh Elgarian grandeur (Walton expressed unbounded admiration for Elgar—‘there is no other English composer to touch him’—though in the 1920s he ‘daren’t tell anybody because they would undoubtedly sneer’); the soloist then reminds us of that magical tune from the start of the first movement and the music dies away, at last leaving him free to embark on his display section. But after just three notes the orchestra can’t keep out of the action, heralding the end of the ‘cadenza’. That resolves the tug of war between ‘show’ and ‘inner truth’; the major/minor thirds return, and with the opening tune rounding things off the concerto ends precisely as a big-ego soloist would prefer not to end—in quiet reflection. This ‘eloquent epilogue’, says Walton’s biographer Michael Kennedy, ‘remains the single most beautiful passage in all his music, sensuous yet full of uncertainty’—which is musically apparent in the final overlap of minor (orchestra) and major (soloist). The viola holds on just that bit longer.

Walton’s original orchestration, heard on this recording, includes triple woodwind and three trumpets. In the more familiar revised version of 1961 the composer reduced these forces a little (double woodwind, two trumpets and no tuba), and added a harp. However, the original version perhaps conveys to a greater extent the freshness and grittiness of Walton’s original conception.

from notes by Leo Black © 2007

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