The Walton Sym. #1 sounds cinematic--by turns slinky, aggressive, gaudy, insinuating, and always playing for surface excitement--but in its day seventy years ago it was the height of British modernism. English critics tend to give the palm to an American conductor, Andre Previn, for the best recording of the work (1966, RCA), but the current Gramophone picked this new LSO Live recording under Colin Davis as one of its recordings of the month, calling it a 'scorching' reading. Strange.
Compared to Previn, Davis plays down the motor rhythms and snarling raw chords that shocked earlier audiences. Even with some of the edges smoothed, this is aggressive music in the opening movement and finale. In the wrong hands it can sound crude and blatant, not for its modern idiom but in the composer's intentions--is he driving hard just for the sake of driving hard? We've heard a lot fiercer music since then, of course. The LSO plays with the kind of enthusiasm and extra flair one expects in concert. The engineers place us up close, and I'd say overall this new CD beats even Previn's remake on Telarc for natural, detailed sound. The absence of a filler, however, makes for a stingy timing of 45+ min.
Davis hasn't ventured into Walton's music before this to my knowledge, and there are plenty of people who don't like this brash, unsettling work, but if you want to hear a committed, very musical reading in excellent sound, here it is.