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WALTON: String Quartet / Piano Quartet

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William Walton(1902-1983)

String Quartet in Aminor Piano Quartet in D minor

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's first String Quartet, written at Oxford principally in1919 but later revised, had proved disappointing and was not well received atthe 1923 meeting of the International Society for Contemporary Music inSalzburg. By 1939 he was considering another quartet, but it was only after thewar and distracting work on film scores that he returned to the idea. The StringQuartet in A minor, transcribed in 1971, with the help of MalcolmArnold, as Sonata for Strings, was written between 1945 and 1947 andfirst performed and broadcast in May 1947 by the Blech Quartet. The work wasdedicated to the conductor Ernest Irving.

The first movement of the quartet is in sonata form, with a first themeheard initially from the viola before being taken up by the second violin. Aharsher transition leads to a secondary theme, before a development thatincludes a fugue, initiated by the viola, followed by the second violin, celloand first violin. The material of the exposition returns, duly modified, in recapitulation. The secondmovement, a thematically related scherzo of angular character, isimpelled forward by a repeated rhythm, to be followed by a moving Lento, inwhich the muted viola offers a strongly felt meditation, leading to a secondviola theme, accompanied by the plucked notes of the cello, a melody then takenup by the first violin. The mood changes with the brusque opening of the lastmovement, a rondo that, in one contrasting episode, again allows the viola amoving moment of lyricism, in writing from which the Viola Concerto isnever far away.

Walton wrote his PianoQuartet in 1918 and 1919, revising it in 1921 before its first publicationin 1924. He revised the work again some fifty years later. The quartet wasdedicated to the Right Reverend Thomas Banks Strong, Bishop of Ripon, who hadbeen Dean of Christ Church while Walton was in the choir school there and haddone much to encourage him, admitting him to the college as an undergraduateand providing from the funds available to him the necessary financial support.

The first public performance seems to have been given in London in 1929.

Over sustained cellonotes the first violin announces the modal principal theme of the firstmovement, an element that is to recur, in one form or another, before the entryof the viola and then of the piano. The movement is broadly in sonata form,with secondary material introduced by the viola. There are echoes of Ravel inthe texture of what follows and of distinguished English contemporaries,notably Vaughan Williams or even Elgar in what follows. The spiky rhythms ofthe scherzo lead to fugal treatments of a derivative of the principaltheme of the first movement and a triumphant secondary theme. The Andantetranquillo unwinds with muted strings. The moving principal theme emerges,with its echoes of Ravel, to be taken over by the cello accompanied by ripplingarpeggiated piano chords. The viola introduces further material, taken up bythe other strings, as the movement slowly proceeds towards a whispered close.

Harsh rhythms break the mood with the start of the final Allegro molto, withits ever clearer thematic echoes of the first movement. There is a lyricalsecondary theme announced first by the cello and entrusted to the viola inrecapitulation, while the central development allows the strings to embark on afugue with an extended subject. The quartet ends with an emphatic coda.

Keith Anderson

Item number 8554646
Barcode 636943464625
Release date 12/01/1999
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Donohoe, Peter
Donohoe, Peter
Composers Walton, William
Walton, William
Orchestras Maggini Quartet
Maggini Quartet
Disc: 1
Piano Quartet
1 Allegro
2 Presto
3 Lento
4 Allegro molto
5 Allegramente
6 Allegro scherzando
7 Andante tranquillo
8 Allegro molto
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