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Sir William Walton - Legendary Recordings

Release Date: 04/15/2008 
Label:  Alto Records Catalog #: 1026   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Sir William Walton
Performer:  Peter PearsEdith SitwellSir Malcolm Sargent
Conductor:  Anthony CollinsSir Malcolm Sargent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Opera Group Ensemble OrchestraLondon Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTON Façade. 1 Henry V: Excerpts. 2 Orb and Sceptre 3 Anthony Collins, cond; 1 William Walton, cond; 2 Malcolm Sargent, cond; 3 Edith Sitwell (nar); 1 Peter Pears (nar); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Lawrence Olivier (nar); 2 English Op Group Ens; 1 Philharmonia O & Ch; 2 London SO 3 ALTO 1026, mono (73:12)

Façade is a product of Walton’s friendship with the Sitwell family. It was originally conceived as a home entertainment with Edith Sitwell’s nonsensical rhymes supported by Walton’s music and was performed at the Sitwell’s house in January 1922. In June 1923, its first public performance was a public scandal and met with critical hostility. It is possible that no one was more surprised than Walton was when it eventually became sufficiently popular that he decided to extract 10 of the numbers, divide them into two suites, and eliminate the narration. Eventually, Façade ’s music became so popular that it appeared in a variety of arrangements, not all of them by Walton, for different combinations of instruments. Meanwhile, the original underwent various revisions until Walton settled on its final form: an introduction, followed by 21 recitations over his music.

I know of two recordings that have resurrected all of Sitwell’s original poems, even the ones for which the music has been lost; given that the definitive Façade runs about 35 minutes, it’s an interesting and appropriate way of filling a CD. Unfortunately, neither of them, an Arabesque CD narrated by Lynn Redgrave and a Discover CD with Pamela Hunter doing the honors, is available here at the moment. Neither is my favorite of many good ones, with Russell Oberlin and Hermione Gingold. Walton seems to have preferred performing Façade this way, with a pair of reciters, one of each sex—and that is the way it is performed on this Alto reissue of London/Decca’s 1954 recording with a chamber group led by Anthony Collins. Edith Sitwell herself makes her third appearance on a Façade recording (she read only four poems on the abbreviated 1929 78s), joined here by Peter Pears. Sitwell is a perfectly adequate reader of her own poetry, but I think several actresses have actually gotten more out of it. The original LP was packaged in a thin box, rather than the usual slipcase, probably because it came with a libretto. Alto has not provided one, but you don’t have to understand all the words, particularly the virtuosic way Pears manages to rattle-off some of the verses, in order to enjoy the piece. The “meaning” of the poems is less important than the sheer sounds of the words—the narrators are very nearly extra instrumentalists. If you must follow the poems, you can find them on the Internet; just search for William Walton (or, perhaps, Edith Sitwell) and proceed from there. I have looked over the available (in the U.S.A.) recordings and doubt that you would go wrong with any of them. When you are going to make a recording of Façade , you don’t pick folks like Butterfly McQueen and Leo Gorcey to do the narration. Stereo adds very little in this piece so the excellent monaural sound should not be a deterrent.

To fill out the CD, we have Lawrence Olivier reciting lines from Henry V. This recording, which runs just under a half hour, was not taken from the soundtrack of the Olivier film; it was recorded by EMI in 1944 with Walton conducting, and Olivier doesn’t confine himself to Henry V’s speeches—he handles all the supplementary bit parts, too. Like the film, the recording was probably intended to serve as a World War II morale-builder as well as an entertainment. For those who loved the movie, it’s a frustrating souvenir, but a pleasure nevertheless. The phrases “Crown Imperial” and “Orb and Sceptre” are part of one of Henry’s speeches and served as the titles of Walton’s two Coronation Marches, the first, composed for George VI’s 1937 coronation, the second, for that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. They have that combination of dignity and swagger that distinguishes the marches of his predecessor, Elgar. You could almost call them the “Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 6 and 7.” Too bad that there was only space for Orb and Sceptre . Despite the lack of libretto for Façade , Alto’s annotations are still worthy of such an interesting reissue.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Façade by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Peter Pears (Speaker), Edith Sitwell (Speaker)
Conductor:  Anthony Collins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Opera Group Ensemble Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921-1922; England 
Henry V: Speech before Harfleur 'Once more unto the breach' by Sir William Walton
Written: 1943-44 
Henry V: Prologue to Act IV 'Now entertain conjecture of a time' by Sir William Walton
Written: 1943-44 
Henry V: Upon the King! by Sir William Walton
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943-1944; England 
Henry V: This day is called the Feast of Crispian by Sir William Walton
Written: 1943-44 
Henry V: Epilogue 'Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen' by Sir William Walton
Written: 1943-44 
Coronation March "Orb and Sceptre" by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Sir Malcolm Sargent (Narrator)
Conductor:  Sir Malcolm Sargent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 

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