This is a disc that I hope Walton enthusiasts will take a bit more notice of, because it is a particularly interesting one. Of the seven works here only three are what I would have thought of as familiar, and they are Portsmouth Point, Scapino and the Sinfonia Concertante. New to my own Walton collection – and to my experience as a listener – are the short orchestral lyric Siesta, a suite of ten pieces called Music for Children, another suite from an abandoned ballet entitled The Quest, and a Capriccio Burlesco. This last is a fairly late work dating from 1968, and it is thoughtfully placed at the end, forming an interesting juxtaposition with the ‘comedy overture’ Scapino, written originally in 1940 although revised ten years later.
Walton himself is in charge and the recordings seem all to have been done in 1971, although Portsmouth Point, Siesta and the Music for Children are with the London Philharmonic while the other works are with the London Symphony. The sound has been given digital remastering, but it is not spectacular, only what I might call good average for the time. The real interest of the disc is in hearing this unique composer performing some of his own work that we rarely get a chance to hear from anyone. Another thing that I particularly like about the set is that it puts the second symphony and the cello concerto behind it and gives us the sort of Walton that appeals most to me. This is true in particular of the Capriccio Burlesco, which shows that even by its late date of composition he had not lost the knack of urban sophistication that previously marked not only Scapino but also Facade.
Another matter of interest is that the Sinfonia Concertante is given in its revised 1943 version. Walton himself later claimed to prefer the original score from 1926/7, but I suppose the rest of us are allowed our own preferences. What I hope will be welcomed by all is the reappearance of Peter Katin in the obbligato piano part. When I was young his was a familiar name. These days he seems to have been all but forgotten, so this is a very pleasant chance to reacquaint ourselves with him, or make his acquaintance for the first time as the case may be. This piano part is of course not a virtuoso role, and the recording balance is not ‘forward’ in the way such roles are usually treated, but it can all be done well and appropriately, and it’s done well here.
Walton’s music, or at least a certain kind of Walton’s music, is bracing and invigorating. He was no radical, but he was no conservative either, and indeed he was regarded as avant-garde in the 20’s. In particular he stood out in strong contrast with the rather agricultural sense of much English music of the time, a kind of hedgerows -‘n’- Housman school. I can leave that: give me what I find here. It all makes me realise just how near the next 20’s are getting.
Another thing that commends this issue is the liner note by Michael Kennedy, one of the better examples of the genre to have come my way lately. It is genuinely informative, it has an interesting career to describe, and it does that in an interesting way.