Notes and Editorial Reviews
A scorching performance from Sir Colin casts new light on Walton
When Colin Davis conducted Walton’s First Symphony at the Barbican it was greeted by ecstatic notices – and rightly so. It was as though critics had suddenly rediscovered this iconic work, which so tellingly reflects the mood of uncertainty and tension in the 1930s. The recording bears out that response: the hushed opening seems as though the music is only just emerging into human consciousness. The mystery quickly evaporates as the nagging syncopations of the ostinato figure become more insistent, developing into a powerful climax. The clarity of texture and sharpness of attack add to the impact, with Davis at ease with the jazz element and finding more
light and shade than is common. The Scherzo brings big contrasts too; the slow movement sounds as haunting as the opening and then brings warmly lyrical ideas. The extrovert finale again brings clarity in the contrapuntal writing of successive fugatos, leading to a ripe conclusion.
This new recording finds a welcome place. Yet it is amazing how well my benchmark recording, André Previn’s 1966 reading with the LSO (RCA, 2/89R), stands up. The sound is fatter, more punchy than on Davis’s disc and Previn, early in his conducting career in this country, is more biting, in the slow movement conveying a chill that exactly suits Walton’s sweet-sour inspiration.
This music may have been inspired by a frustrated love affair rather than anything to do with world politics, but it stands as a symbol of its times, and Previn powerfully conveys that. Meanwhile, this new disc earns a very warm welcome.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [8/2006]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in B flat minor by Sir William Walton
Sir Colin Davis
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1932-1935; England
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