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Walton: Hamlet, As You Like It / Marriner, Gielgud, Et Al

Release Date: 09/11/2007 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10436   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir William Walton
Performer:  John GielgudCatherine Bott
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTON (arr. Palmer) Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario. 1 FARNABY Rosa solis. 2 ANON Watkin’s Ale. 3 CANTELOUBE Chants d’Auvergne: Là-bas dans le Limousin 4 Neville Marriner, cond; 1 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Christopher Plummer (nar); 1 Ian Watson (hpd); 2,3,4 Celia Nicklin (ob); 4 Academy of St. Martin in the Fields & Ch; 1 Westminster Cathedral Ch 1 CHANDOS 10437 (67:11)

WALTON (arr. Palmer) Hamlet: A Shakespearean Scenario. 1 As You Like It 2 Neville Marriner, cond; John Gielgud (nar); 1 Catherine Bott (sop); 2 Academy of St. Martin in the Fields CHANDOS 10436 (51:58)

WALTON (arr. Palmer) Richard III: A Shakespearean Scenario. 1 Macbeth: Fanfare and March. Major Barbara: A Shavian Sequence Neville Marriner, cond; John Gielgud (nar); 1 Academy of St. Martin in the Fields CHANDOS 10435 (60:45)

One of the joys of early television was due to the belief network executives still had that culture sold. As a result, you could catch great pianists televised nationally in live concerts; plays commissioned for the screen and performed by exceptional casts; and great films aired during primetime without commercial interruption. That was how I first saw the three Shakespeare films Olivier directed and acted in, Hamlet, Henry V , and Richard III . ( Othello , from 1965, was essentially a filmed stage production.) I soon acquired the complete soundtrack of the last in a boxed LP set, and eventually an Angel LP drawn from William Walton’s superlative accompanying scores. The Walton was not without its attendant problems. The normally splendid Philharmonia sounded a bit ragged and undisciplined, possibly because of no time for remakes, possibly because Walton wasn’t a very good conductor. The content itself was cleverly arranged to show off some of the finest and most easily excerpted material, but left some very good things out, such as the charming music to the pantomimed play-within-a-play of Hamlet . Both of those issues are resolved on these three CDs. They lovingly give us nearly all the music Walton wrote for all three films, along with some other interesting content besides.

Christopher Palmer achieved this by excerpting large musical sections that occurred under dialogue into his “Shakespearean Scenarios.” Where he felt it necessary, Palmer incorporated an occasional monologue to provide atmosphere. (You no doubt catch the irony of this, since the music itself was originally intended to provide atmosphere for the words.) His achievement is not so much in recovering such fine music for sampling away from the films, since Walton made this easy for him; but rather in envisioning that such a thing could, and should, be done. While I’m not especially thrilled with all the to-and-fro Agincourt battling sequence that Walton left out of his Henry V suite, I am delighted to hear again the French court music from that film. It’s a still greater pleasure to find not merely the Hamlet pantomime music restored, but also the gravely beautiful content that surrounded Ophelia’s moments with Hamlet and her death. Only the Palmer-arranged Richard III music seems a bit underwhelming, because I find Walton had already caught all the best bits in his Prelude and A Shakespearean Suite . In particular, the use of the original organ instead of Walton’s delicate reorchestration of the processional (which gives us so musically perfect a representation of the secret, unceasing, amoral energy of the anti-heroes in the Renaissance Machiavelli play) creates a duller sound, less satisfactory away from the original motion picture, where it fit well.

The acting talent hired to deliver the Shakespeare to accompany Palmer’s work is distinguished, but achieves a mixed success. Gielgud’s voice by 1989–90, when he was in his mid-eighties, lacked the edge it had years before, and certainly its youth. But he succeeds through interpretative greatness in creating convincing mini-portrayals of both Richard III and Hamlet. Not so Christopher Plummer, in my opinion. He certainly understands the music of Shakespeare, and his diction is excellent, but the lines are skimmed for meaning. It was also a questionable choice to have Plummer do all three voices for this Shakespearean Sequence of Henry V : the Chorus, Henry himself, and notably Falstaff—whose very few lines here sound less like the dying of the wickedest, most entertaining old profligate to ever grace English literature, than a much healthier and more vigorous actor in a fake voice.

The filler on these three albums commands some interest, as well. Palmer found enough material to build a short but attractive suite from the first Shakespearean film Olivier was to star in, As You Like It : a brief foreshadowing of what Walton would accomplish later, and in a lighter vein as befits its material. (Catherine Bott is haunting in “Under the Greenwood Tree.”) Major Barbara: A Shavian Sequence is another short suite, this time in a more modern (circa 1941) vein, filled with energy, tension, fine melody, and spirit. In turn, Walton’s Fanfare and March for Macbeth were written for a 1942 stage production by John Gielgud. The first part is very much in the same vein as the opening pages of Henry V , but the March is something else, again: a clever stylization of a Scots march, with imitated bagpipes. Its “trio section” derives from another, more ominous march that Walton wrote for the passing of the eight kings before Macbeth’s dazzled eyes.

Finally, Rosa solis (of which Thurston Dart made such a memorable recording in the 1970s), the bawdy Watkin’s Ale , and Là-bas dans le Limousin , all were arranged and put to brilliant use by Walton in Henry V . Heard here as a pair of harpsichord originals and in the Canteloube transcription from Chants d’Auvergne , Walton’s skill in transforming his material is made all the more evident.

Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields do a fine job on this material, and the forward, natural-sounding sound only makes it that much more appealing. The liner notes by Palmer are good, save on one point. We are told of Barrie’s The Boy David that “Walton provided incidental music for this time, but none has survived.” This is inaccurate. Just a few months ago I reviewed “British Composers Conduct,” Dutton 9766, which includes three short surviving selections from The Boy David . It is an understandable error, however, given that the composer never published the score, and that the selections only survived on privately recorded discs in the hands of collectors.

Granted, these three albums are re-releases drawn from the vast back catalog of Chandos. Still, for all they offer, it’s good to find them available again, this time around at a reduced price. Well worth the purchase.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Hamlet by Sir William Walton
Performer:  John Gielgud (Spoken Vocals), Catherine Bott (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; England 
As you like it by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Catherine Bott (Soprano), John Gielgud (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; England 

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