EMI has a dizzying array of compilations of William Walton's music. Should one get the 2 CD set marketed under the "Twentieth Century Classics" rubric, the 12 CD Walton Edition box, or this one--which falls in the middle in terms of cost and quantity of material. I'd go for this one, which features the big showpieces: the symphonies, the concertos, and "Belshazzar's Feast." For the most part, the performances are excellent, and the discs have high-quality sound (which isn't always something you can claim for EMI).
Disc 1 features the two symphonies. Symphony No. 1 is the weak link in this set: Malcom Sargent's reading is acceptable, but doesn't have the titanic majesty that the work screams for. This is a double shame as EMI also has Bernard Haitink's recording in its vaults, which may be the best the symphony ever had. In contrast to the powerful First, Symphony No. 2 is an odd beast--it starts powerful and then seems to dwindle away. Andre Previn's reading makes a strong case for the work; frankly, Previn was one of the best advocates Walton's music ever had.
Disc 2 contains the Viola and Violin Concertos, with Nigel Kennedy as the soloist in both. I'm not a great fan of Kennedy's, but these were recorded in 1987, which was apparently before he started believing what his publicist was saying. His playing is appropriate and free of the self-indulgence typical of many of his recordings. Again, Previn's handling of the orchestra makes a strong case for these works.
Once we get to Disc 3, we get to the heart of the set and some truly wonderful recordings. Here we have the suites from "Facade" and the various coronation music, all led by Louis Fremaux. Fremaux has the deft touch required to extract the maximum musical wit from "Facade" and all the bombast and pomp necessary to pull off the coronation marches: these are the best recordings of "Orb and Sceptre" and "Crown Imperial" I've ever heard.
The strongest of the discs is #4, which features Previn's absolutely marvelous, never-bettered recording of "Belshazzar's Feast." This and the "Portsmouth Point" and "Scapino" overtures alone are worth the price of the full set--Previn gives all of these full-bodied readings that captures Walton's rhythmic intricacies, his technicolor orchestration, and deft interplay between orchestra and chorus in the oratorio.
Finally, Disc 5 provides a historical curiosity: the recording of extracts from the opera "Troilus and Cressida" made by Walton himself after the disastrous 1953 premiere. The opera is far from Walton's best work--his dramatic pacing leaves something to be desired, among other things--but this disc preserves some of the opera's best music. We get to hear Elisabeth Schwartzkopf sing Cressida (Walton wrote the role for her, but she didn't take part in the original staging) and Walton conduct his own music, so this may be as close as we'll get to figuring out what Walton heard in his head as he was writing the piece.
EMI recorded a lot of Walton's music, doing for him what Decca did for Benjamin Britten. If you're looking for a good cross-section of Walton's works in very good performances (only the First Symphony doesn't quite come up to scratch, and it is acceptable), this is the set you'll want to purchase.