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Track(s) taken from CDA67587

Viola Concerto

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

Lawrence Power (viola), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov (conductor)
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' (Classical Source)

'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)
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

Le concerto pour alto (1928–9) compta parmi les grandes œuvres de jeunesse de Walton. Sir Thomas Beecham avait suggéré qu’un pièce d’une étoile montante attirerait l’immense altiste britannique Lionel Tertis; mais, jugeant que la partition de Walton avait l’air trop «moderne», ce dernier la renvoya par retour du courrier—à peine l’eut-il entendue, cependant, qu’il réalisa son erreur et s’en enticha. Le concerto fut créé au Queen’s Hall de Londres, le 3 octobre 1929, par le Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra placé sous la baguette de Walton avec, en soliste, un grand musicien allemand: Paul Hindemith. En toute amitié, Walton dut admettre que, malgré une «technique merveilleuse», le jeu d’Hindemith fut «sommaire … Il s’est juste levé et a joué».

La langoureuse mélodie d’ouverture du concerto peut hanter la mémoire, et elle la hante à la fin, car elle a aussi le dernier mot, d’abord avec sa minuscule figure qui met en très étroit contact les tierces majeur et mineure de la tonalité—la musique anglaise s’était délectée de ce genre de «craquements» jusqu’à Purcell. Il y a pas mal d’action dans cette œuvre, même si Walton conserve la maussaderie de l’ouverture, y compris quand il introduit une idée nouvelle; c’est seulement plus tard que la musique gagne d’un coup en vigueur dans un vibrant passage entendu deux fois, de part et d’autre d’un passage aux curieuses allures de ballet, qui n’est pas sans rappeler certains moments de Façade. Avant que le climat d’ouverture ne soit de retour, le soliste est brièvement laissé seul à rêvasser avec, en fond, un simple frisson de cordes graves. Ce pourrait être un écho de la «cadenza accompagnée» du concerto pour violon d’Elgar—ce que le concerto pour alto de Rubbra montre sous une forme plus développée. La musique d’ouverture complète un premier mouvement lancinant, avec le filigrane de l’alto qui fait contre la mélodie originale une touche charmante.

Le scherzo de quatre minutes est un coup de maître, brillant de la première à la dernière note. Une des idées lumineuses des années 1920 fut le «style de toccata», avec «Back to Bach» pour slogan, et l’éternal affairé qu’était Hindemith fut parmi les meilleurs compositeurs encore jeunes à la saluer. Et il dut se délecter des passages rapides au milieu du premier mouvement du concerto, puis de ce scherzo, même si, chez Walton, la vigueur du style de toccata tient moins à une agitation grouillante qu’à cette sorte de joie de vivre qui imprègne Portsmouth Point.

Au début du finale, l’allure trépidante est retombée, pour n’être plus que vive et gaie. Walton, comme Faust, a «deux âmes dans sa poitrine»: l’une qui veut atteindre à un apogée triomphant, l’autre qui aspire à redécouvrir son vrai moi, celui du jeune homme sensible arborant un séduisant soupçon de mélancolie, son apparition sous forme d’enfant terrible faisant juste partie de son charme. La réconciliation de ces deux âmes donne toute sa qualité au finale: le temps que l’une ou l’autre est à l’ascendant, on est fermement convaincu qu’elle doit prendre le dessus. En tant qu’idée secondaire, l’idée en tierce majeure/mineure ressurgit bientôt, mais transformée, sans sa tierce majeure aigre-douce, et l’air de basson du début essaie sans cesse de faire redémarrer les choses. Par moments, on n’est pas loin de cet «ultime recours du compositeur désespéré» qu’est la fugue avec, ici, une augmentation du thème au basson. S’ensuit un interlude orchestral d’une grandeur quasi elgarienne (Walton confessa une admiration sans bornes pour Elgar—«aucun autre compositeur anglais ne l’égale»—, même si, dans les années 1920, il n’osait «le dire à personne, car on souriait immanquablement avec mépris»); le soliste nous rappelle alors l’air magique du début du premier mouvement et la musique va en mourant, le laissant enfin libre d’entamer sa section de démonstration. Mais au bout de trois notes à peine, l’orchestre n’y tient plus et annonce la fin de la «cadenza». Voilà qui résout la lutte acharnée entre «démonstration» et «intime vérité»; les tierces majeures/mineures reviennent et, avec l’air d’ouverture pour boucler la boucle, le concerto s’achève précisément comme un soliste à l’ego surdimensionné ne le voudrait pas—dans une paisible réflexion. Selon Michael Kennedy, biographe de Walton, cet «éloquent épilogue demeure son passage le plus splendide, sensuel et pourtant plein d’incertitude»—ce qui se traduit musicalement par le chevauchement final mineur (orchestre) / majeur (soliste). L’alto s’accroche juste un peu plus longtemps.

Dans cet enregistrement, nous pouvons entendre l’orchestration originale de Walton, avec trois instrumentistes dans chaque pupitre des bois ainsi que trois trompettes. Dans la célèbre version révisée de 1961, le compositeur avait réduit quelque peu cet effectif (deux instruments par pupitre des bois, deux trompettes et pas de tuba) et ajouta une harpe. Néanmoins, la version d’origine recréait sans doute dans toute sa splendeur la spontanéité et l’aplomb musical initialement imaginés par Walton.

extrait des notes rédigées par Leo Black © 2007
Français: Hypérion

Waltons Violakonzert (1928–9) war eines seiner bedeutendsten frühen Werke. Sir Thomas Beecham hatte vorgeschlagen, dass ein Stück von einem aufsteigenden Star den großen britischen Bratscher Lionel Tertis ansprechen könnte. Tertis schaute sich die Partitur an, fand sie „zu modern“ und schickte sie umgehend zurück; sobald er jedoch das Konzert hörte, erkannte er seinen Irrtum und widmete sich dem Werk fortan. Der Solist in der Uraufführung am 3. Oktober 1929 mit dem Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra unter Waltons Leitung in der Londoner Queens Hall war der führende deutsche Musiker Paul Hindemith. In aller Freundschaft musste Walton eingestehen, dass trotz seiner „wunderbaren Technik“ Hindemiths Spiel „ungeschliffen“ war: „Er stand einfach da und spielte“.

Die träumerische Anfangsmelodie des Konzerts kann einem durchs Gedächtnis spuken, besonders da es auch das letzte Wort erhält, nicht zuletzt mit der winzigen Figur, die die große und kleine Terz der Tonart in engsten Kontakt bringt—die englische Musik hatte schon seit Purcells Zeit Gefallen an solchen „Bissen“. In diesem Werk ist viel los, obwohl Walton selbst wenn er eine neue Idee einführt, die verhaltene Stimmung des Anfangs beibehält; erst später belebt sich die Musik plötzlich energisch in einer zweimal zu hörenden mitreißenden Passage, die eine seltsam ballethafte umrahmt, die an Momente in Façade erinnert. Bevor die Stimmung des Anfangs zurückkehrt, sinniert der Solist für sich, mit nur einem leisen Murmeln der tiefen Streicher im Hintergrund. Dies könnte ein Echo der „begleiteten Kadenz“ in Elgars Violinkonzert sein und ein Element, das Rubbras Violakonzert in ausgeprägterer Form einsetzt. Musik des Anfangs rundet einen eindringlichen ersten Satz ab, mit der liebenwürdigen Variation der filigranen Führung der Bratsche gegen die Originalmelodie.

Das vierminütige Scherzo ist eine Meisterleistung—von der ersten bis zur letzten Note brillant. Eine prächtige Idee der 1920er Jahre mit ihrem Schlagwort „Back to Bach“ („Zurück zu Bach“) war der „Toccatenstil“, und der unermüdliche Hindemith war einer der besseren jüngeren Komponisten, die vor dieser Idee den Hut abzogen. Er dürfte wohl am schnellen Passagenwerk in der Mitte des ersten Satzes und in diesem Scherzo Spaß gehabt haben, obwohl die Lebhaftigkeit in Waltons „Toccaten“-Manier weniger Geschäftigkeit darstellt als solche Lebensfreude, wie sie Portsmouth Point durchzieht.

Am Anfang des Finales hat sich das hektische Tempo auf nur forsch und munter beruhigt. In Walton, wie Faust, leben „zwei Seelen in einer Brust“: eine will zum triumphalen Höhepunkt hin steigern, die andere sucht sein wahres Selbst als sensibler junger Mann mit einem reizenden Anflug von Melancholie wiederzufinden, dessen „Enfant terrible“-Image lediglich zu seinem Charme beitrug. Die Versöhnung dieser beiden Seelen verleiht dem Finale seine Qualität, denn egal welche gerade im Aufstieg begriffen ist, man ist überzeugt, dass sie die Oberhand gewinnen muss. Als Nebengedanke erscheint die Dur-/Mollterz-Idee transformiert, ohne seine bittersüße große Terz, und die Fagottmelodie des Anfangs versucht, die Sache wieder in Gang zu bringen. Zeitweise sind wir nicht weit von der „letzten Zuflucht eines verzweifelten Komponisten“ entfernt—einer Fuge, komplett mit Augmentation des Fagotthemas. Es gibt auch ein Orchesterzwischenspiel von nahezu Elgarischer Erhabenheit (Walton drückte eine schrankenlose Bewunderung für Elgar aus—„es gibt keinen anderen englischen Komponisten, der ihm das Wasser reichen kann“—obwohl er es in den 1920er Jahren „niemandem eingestehen wollte, weil sie [ihn] bestimmt verspottet hätten“). Der Solist erinnert uns dann an die zauberhafte Melodie vom Anfang des ersten Satzes, und die Musik ebbt ab, um seiner Virtuosität endlich freien Lauf zu lassen.

Aber nach nur drei Takten kann sich das Orchester nicht zurückhalten und kündigt das Ende der „Kadenz“ an. Dies löst den Konflikt zwischen „Schaustellerei“ und „innerer Wahrheit“; die Dur-/Mollterzen kehren wieder und mit der Abrundung durch die Anfangsmelodie schließt das Konzert genau so, wie es einem Interpreten mit großem Ego nicht gefällt: in leiser Besinnlichkeit. Dieser „eloquente Epilog“, sagt der Walton-Biograph Michael Kennedy, ist „eine der schönsten Passagen in all seiner Musik, sinnlich, aber voller Ungewissheit“—was musikalisch im letzten Überlappen von Moll (Orchester) und Dur (Solist) zu Tage tritt. Aber die Bratsche hält ein bisschen länger.

Waltons Originalinstrumentation, wie sie in der vorliegenden Aufnahme zu hören ist, enthält dreifache Holzbläser und drei Trompeten. In der besser bekannten Fassung von 1961 verringerte der Komponist diese Kräfte ein wenig (doppeltes Holz, zwei Trompeten, keine Tuba) und fügte eine Harfe hinzu. Die Originalfassung vermittelt jedoch wohl in größerem Maße die Frische und Kompromisslosigkeit von Waltons ursprünglichem Konzept.

aus dem Begleittext von Leo Black © 2007
Deutsch: Renate Wendel

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