WALTON: Violin Concerto / Cello Concerto (Dong-Suk Kang/ English Northern Philharmonia/ Paul Daniel/ Tim Hugh) (Naxos: 8.554325)
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Concerto for Cello andOrchestra; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
William Walton occupies his own position in English music of thetwentieth century, chronologically between the generation of Gustav Holst andVaughan Williams and that of Benjamin Britten. Born in Oldham in 1902, the sonof a local singing teacher and choirmaster, he became a chorister at ChristChurch, Oxford, and followed this with admission to the university at the earlyage of sixteen, with support from the college. His Oxford career broughtsuccess in music but failure in the necessary academic tests to allow him adegree. At the same time his friendship with Sacheverell Sitwell led to hisadoption by the three Sitwell children, Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell, as anhonorary brother. The practical help of the Sitwells and the musical andcultural influences of their circle allowed him to devote his attention tocomposition in the years after he left Oxford, followed by increasingindependence, as he won a wider reputation for himself and a satisfactoryincome from music for the cinema and from a generous bequest by Mrs SamuelCourtauld. In the years after 1945 he was to some extent eclipsed by Britten,whose facility he lacked and whose contemporary achievement now seemed to gobeyond Walton's successes of the 1930s. His marriage in 1948 to Susana GilPasso, whom he had met in Buenos Aires at a conference of the Performing RightsSociety, was followed by a move to the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples,continuing an association with Italy that had started in the early days of hisfriendship with the Sitwells and had continued in subsequent years. He diedthere in March 1983.
In the years between the wars Walton won a succ?¿s de scandale withFa?ºade, a collaboration with Edith Sitwell that amused the cognoscentiand shocked wider audiences, before winning an assured if minor position intwentieth century repertoire in its final form, whether as a ballet or in theconcert-hall. His dramatic oratorio Belshazzar's Feast, with a textderived by Osbert Sitwell from the Bible, first performed at the Leeds Festivalin 1931, was a significant addition to choral repertoire, while the ViolaConcerto of 1929 marks a height of lyrical achievement and holds a centralplace in the viola concerto repertoire. The first of his two symphonies waseventually completed in 1935 and his Violin Concerto four years later.
The popular film music of the war years was followed after the war by theoperas Troilus and Cressida and the one-act Chekhov extravaganza, TheBear, as well as the Hindemith Variations, Improvisations on anImpromptu by Benjamin Britten and the Cello Concerto and SecondSymphony.
Walton wrote his Cello Concerto, a work that he regarded as thebest of his three solo concertos, in 1956 in response to a commission fromGregor Piatigorsky. He provided two new endings for the work, after Piatigorskyreported the reservations of Jascha Heifetz, but in the event the originalending was kept when the work was first performed in Boston in January 1957,followed by a performance in London in the following month. In 1975 he providedPiatigorsky with another ending but any performance of this version wasprevented by the latter's illness and death. Critical reaction in London was mixedand in some cases distinctly hostile, as a place was sought for contemporarymusic of another kind. The lyrical first movement allows the soloist along-spun theme, at first over the plucked notes of the strings. A secondarytheme, marked a tempo tranquillo, offers a descending pattern ofsemi-quavers, against the recurrent opening motif, leading to the eventualreturn of the principal theme over a repeated flute and oboe accompaniment. Thefollowing Allegro appassionato, a scherzo, relaxes briefly into a morelyrical trio that interrupts the headlong course of the music. The concertoends with a theme and four improvisations. After the slow opening melody thecello leads into a first variation coloured by the use of harp, vibraphone andcelesta. The second is for cello alone, marked Risoluto tempo giusto.
brioso, to be followed by a fierce Allegro molto. The rhapsodicfourth variation, for cello alone, ends in trills that introduce the finalsection, with reminiscences of the first movement and the return of the theme.
Walton completed his Violin Concerto early in 1939, much of itwritten during a stay in Italy with Alice Wimbome, who had largely replaced theSitwells for him. The work had been commissioned by Heifetz, who gave the firstperformance in Cleveland, Ohio, in December that year. The first Londonperformance was given in the Royal Albert Hall in November 1941, with HenryHolst as the soloist.
There is a lyrical first theme, marked sognando (dreaming), adirection also used in the Viola Concerto. A secondary theme isintroduced by flute and strings, with a thematic development of the principaltheme that brings a sudden acceleration in its virtuoso violin-?¡writing, acadenza and a final recapitulation of the principal melody, with a brief reminiscenceof the secondary theme. The second scherzo movement, Presto capriccioso allanapolitana, seems expressly designed for Heifetz in its technical demands.
The intermittent Neapolitan tarantella rhythm, suggested by the bite ofa tarantula that Walton had suffered, relaxes into a Canzonetta, anecessarily contrasting Trio, introduced by the French horn, before thevirtuoso scherzo returns, with its own contrasted themes. The rondo finale isopened by the lower strings, joined by the bassoons and clarinets in amarch-like theme that is to recur, soon joined by the soloist. A stronglylyrical theme intervenes and there is a continuing contrast between the twoelements in what follows. A double-?¡stopped reminiscence of the principal themeof the first movement leads to an accompanied cadenza and a final AllaMarcia.