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Walton: Facade, Siesta, Scapino; Bax, Bliss / Boult, Sargent, Bliss

Walton / Boult / London Sym Orch
Release Date: 09/24/2010 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 4803783   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mixed 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTON Façade. 1 Siesta 2. Scapino 2. Portsmouth Point. 2 Orb and Sceptre 3. BAX Coronation March, 1953 3. BLISS Welcome to the Queen 4,5 Read more class="SUPER12">1 Anthony Collins, 2 Adrian Boult, 3 Malcolm Sargent, 4 Arthur Bliss, conds; 1 Edith Sitwell (nar); 1 Peter Pears (nar); 1 English Op Group Ens; 2 London PO; 3,4 London SO DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3783, mono/ 5 stereo (77:24)

Edith Sitwell began publishing the poems that make up the collection that was eventually called Façade shortly after World War I. For a while, Walton was sharing a house with the Sitwell family and someone thought of adding music to some of the poems. The eventual result was that 21 of Sitwell’s poems ended up with musical accompaniments by Walton. After Sitwell’s death, Walton produced accompaniments to several of the poems that had been dropped between the 1922 private performance and the publication of the definitive score in 1951. This particular recording, like other “complete” ones, consists of the 21 poems that made the cut, so to speak. It was previously issued on CD a few years ago on the Alto label in very good transfers. This Decca Eloquence reissue is of comparable quality and, because it is authorized by Decca, includes Sitwell’s original annotations for the 1954 LP. What it does not have are the texts of the poems, which were also provided with the original LP. Let me point out that you don’t really have to understand the words in order to enjoy the piece. The “meaning” of the poems is much less important than the sheer sound of the words; Sitwell treats the narrators as extra instrumentalists. Perhaps people who acquire this release will already own a recording that includes the texts. The narration is sometimes performed by a single speaker, but the first (incomplete) recording, which was conducted by Walton himself in 1929, used two speakers, Constant Lambert and Sitwell herself (she read four of the poems). I admire this 1954 Façade a great deal (Peter Pears does a virtuoso turn rattling off some of Sitwell’s nonsense) but my favorite all-time recording featured Hermione Gingold and Russell Oberlin with Thomas Dunn conducting. I suppose everything comes out again sooner or later, so I have hopes that it will finally make it to CD.

One of my all-time favorite LPs is London LL 1165, which featured Adrian Boult conducting music of Walton, including the Portsmouth Point Overture, Siesta , and the Scapino Overture. On the October day in 1954 when they were recorded, conditions at Kingsway Hall must have been optimal, for I found these three mono recordings so brilliant that I kept the LP and never preferred even the sound of subsequent recordings. At last they have made their way to CD and sound as good as ever, but I must still retain the LP, which also contains a splendid performance/recording of The Wise Virgins Suite.

When called upon to write a march for the coronation of George VI in 1937, Walton found a model in Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches, a flashy “A” section alternating with a solemn “B” section, and produced Orb and Sceptre . In 1953, as Master of the Queen’s Music, the retired Arnold Bax contributed his last composition, a Coronation March (for Elizabeth II), which, though it lacks the flashy glitter of Orb and Scepter , has a solid dignity. I like the way the annotator expresses it: “His music has the touch of one who feels deeply for those things which are fundamentally and imperishably British. He sees, as it were, beyond the city, beyond the procession, to the countryside.” His successor as Master of the Queen’s Music was Arthur Bliss, who wrote Welcome to the Queen to celebrate her return from a 1954 tour of the commonwealth. It is also the only stereo recording on the disc. Not unlike the Bax and Walton selections, it seems to be the kind of thing any talented British composer used to be able to turn out for a ceremonial occasion and, perhaps, still can. One imagines the Queen reviewing the troops as the solemn music treads along.

FANFARE: James Miller
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