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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67587
Recording details: September 2006
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2007
Total duration: 25 minutes 5 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 in A major, Op 75
composer
1952; first performed by William Primrose with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sergent on 15 April 1953 at the Royal Festival Hall, London

Molto vivace  [4'48]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Rubbra’s concerto became the first in a triptych (the others are for piano and violin), written at a crucial time, the 1950s. He had just converted to Roman Catholicism and become a lecturer and tutor at Oxford University, but his quarter-century of marriage was entering a stormy period, and powerful underlying emotions affect the concertos in fascinatingly different ways. The leading viola virtuoso William Primrose commissioned works for his instrument from Rubbra, and also from Darius Milhaud and Peter Racine Fricker. Rubbra played his concerto through to his fellow-composer and closest friend Gerald Finzi in late June 1952; the premiere, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent, was at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 15 April 1953. There was very soon another, seemingly better performance conducted by the ever-young Beecham, the soloist being Frederick Riddle (who was also Walton’s favourite performer for his concerto). In October 1959 Rubbra wrote in a letter: ‘I am off to America on the 31st. Primrose is giving four performances of the Viola Concerto with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; and they’ve invited me over—paying all expenses!’

Edmund Rubbra sounded new musical depths after 1950, above all in his sixth symphony, and there are musical connections between that work and the viola concerto composed a year earlier, in 1952. In particular, a motif with a falling fifth, fundamental to the symphony, is a good deal in evidence in the concerto’s scherzo. At the start, its first movement also anticipates two symphonic openings from later in Rubbra’s life: a harp note and deep tremolando C look to the seventh symphony (1957), while its deep solo stringed instrument over an even lower bass is reproduced another seventeen years later at the start of the tenth symphony. As both composing colleague and former music-reviewer, Rubbra would have been well aware of Walton’s viola concerto, but it is surely pure coincidence that in both works the solo line opens with a rising minor third.

This opening, too, is predominantly thoughtful, but where Walton becomes daringly impulsive, Rubbra, for all his frequent insistence that composing was like improvisation, builds a long line with supreme skill. As so often with him, a livelier section begins about two minutes in—one can be no more exact, for one of his characteristics, sensed more clearly in the concerto’s finale, is the overlapping of sections like the links in a chain or necklace. The new one brings a further anticipation of the seventh symphony, this time of dancing, Tchaikovsky-like music at the same structural point. After a brief but violent storm has brewed up and blown over, one turn of phrase five minutes in is like a literal quotation from Tchaikovsky. The sober atmosphere, soon returning, is more than once dispelled by something almost frantic, but eventually prevails and is finally underlined in the cadenza. Despite the Elgarian precedent, the idea of couching the soloist’s traditional showpiece entirely over a brooding timpani-roll was daring and dramatic and ran the risk of alienating potential performers.

Neither Walton nor Rubbra would have wished to avoid some echo of perhaps the century’s greatest symphonist—Sibelius. Rubbra’s scherzo sets out in a Lemminkäinen mood, with the soloist first joining in the heavyweight dance, then wending his own quieter way like Berlioz’s viola-playing Harold shunning the Orgy of Brigands: as well he might, given some quite outlandish goings-on in the background, where sinister birds seem to be rehearsing for an appearance in a Hitchcock film (in the sixth symphony they reappear, now totally happy!). Though Rubbra always uses the percussion instruments with great economy, here he lets the side-drum gear itself up for its big moments in the seventh symphony. Near the end we meet someone he called his ‘far-distant Spanish ancestor’. That colourful though purely imaginary person, in evidence ever since an early violin sonata, seems to be over on a flying visit—perhaps for the 1953 Coronation, since he is also around at the opening of the BBC’s commission for the great event, Ode to the Queen. One could be hearing one of the Spanish pieces from Façade, and there is almost a feeling of parody, comparable to Bartók’s send-up of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in his Concerto for Orchestra. Like most Rubbra scherzos, this is for the most part uneasy music, the product of a very full mind.

Rubbra said his finale, a ‘collana musicale’ or musical necklace, was based entirely on material from the viola’s first thirteen bars, making up ‘nine interrelated meditations … without a central theme, but linked together in spirit’. The boundaries of these ‘meditations’ are often blurred by his overlapping of sections, and one may then perceive rather a gradually changing flux, within an atmosphere of intense concentration.

Meditations I and II are long and slow, minor then major, sombre then serene, and both strikingly beautiful (‘from the heart it came, may it speak to people’s hearts’, in Beethoven’s words). Another instrument Rubbra used with as much tact as economy was the harp, sometimes giving it music that suggested a clock ticking life away. That is so in the extremely still music that ends Meditation I, for viola and harp over the barest string accompaniment—it suggests someone straining his perceptions almost to the point of pain as he tries to recall something infinitely precious that is about to disappear. The rhythm changes to 6/8 (Meditation III), but the mood is still sombre, and after about seven minutes we find another Rubbra fingerprint, a series of drum beats that could be saying ‘All flesh is as grass’. Meditation IV brings a milder ‘memento mori’ from the harp, with a lovely added clarinet line that looks forward to a great moment in the slow movement of the sixth symphony. Quite abruptly (Meditation V) the music breaks into a brisker (though ephemeral) 6/8: we seem to be into a typical Rubbra form—slow first half, quick second half, in effect two movements rolled into one, a scheme he would return to in the sixth symphony. But the quick music all too soon turns back toward the minor mode and subsides (Meditation VI). In Meditation VII Old Mortality harp again seems to pluck off the moments one by one. This varied restatement of II is followed (in Meditation VIII) by another version of III, a new touch being a texture that figures in the slow movements of the preceding and ensuing symphonies (Nos 5 and 6); the entire string section plays slowly moving chords, like a cloudscape that has changed each time one looks at it. A final flurry of life (Meditation IX) looks back to a theme that opened the upbeat finale of the war-time fourth symphony; then it had been a public matter, here the composer is coming to terms with some private issue, perhaps of reassurance. And here, at least, the soloist can end on a flourish!

from notes by Leo Black © 2007

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