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Walton: Symphony No 1 / Colin Davis, London So

Release Date: 07/11/2006 
Label:  Lso Live   Catalog #: 576   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir William Walton
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.



WALTON Symphony No. 1 Colin Davis, cond; London SO LSO LIVE LSO0576 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 46:03) Live: London 9/23 & 12/4/2005

There is no shortage of William Walton’s First Symphony on disc—not a surprise, as many consider this work the composer’s masterpiece and one of the finest 20th-century examples of the genre. The piece was greatly anticipated in England at the time of its creation; initial performances offered just the first three movements, while Walton grappled with the finale. The completed Symphony No. 1 was finally heard in late 1935, conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty.

Sir Colin Davis’s reading, derived from concerts at the Barbican Centre in September and December of 2005, is quite accomplished. There’s an excellent sense of line and developing tension, while the many practically cinematic gestures in this brassy, extroverted work manage to avoid heaviness or bombast. The conductor takes full advantage of moments of repose, as with the passage at about 5:20 in the first movement where the symphonic fabric thins out to just high bassoon and viola. After a juggernaut Allegro assai, the Scherzo has a quicksilver lightness, though the “con malizia” indication doesn’t go unnoticed: Walton had experienced a bitter breakup with a live-in girlfriend (a baroness, just so it’s clear we’re not talking about some floozy) and Davis generates considerable frisson. In the Andante con malincolia, Davis presents a series of varied orchestral textures so as to suggest a minor tragedy unfolding. Then, the finale affects a mood of considerable release and exultation, leading to a triumphant conclusion.

Every section of the LSO acquits themselves well, but the brasses deserve particular praise, always playing with an aura of power in reserve—it’s loud, all right, but without screaming trumpets, blaring horns, or blatty trombones. The disc doesn’t disappoint sonically (the veteran James Mallinson produced), possessing terrific dynamic impact and brilliant instrumental sonorities. Unusually for LSO Live SACDs, however, the multichannel mix disappoints, with too much in the rear channels. Even if the sensation of direct sound coming from behind is only occasional, the listener doesn’t get the holographic depiction of the orchestra on stage that surround can deliver. It’s more of an in-the-middle-of-things perspective that—especially with this piece—can be exciting, but doesn’t evoke a concert hall experience. Even multichannel believers (like myself) may opt for the stereo DSD program for SACD playback.

I enjoyed this vital LSO Live Walton First more than other fine readings on hand from Gibson (Chandos), Handley (EMI), and Previn’s second recording of the work for Telarc. Apart from the performances, the sound, including the CD layer, beats that on those three versions—even the Telarc, which was recorded with early Sony digital equipment in the mid 1980s.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in B flat minor by Sir William Walton
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932-1935; England 

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