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Walton: Symphony No 1, Belshazzar's Feast / Hampson, Rattle

Release Date: 09/10/2002 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 56592   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sir William Walton
Performer:  Thomas Hampson
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraCleveland Orchestra ChorusCity of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for "Best Choral Performance."


This is a winning coupling, with Walton’s two searing masterpieces from the 1930s given electrifying performances under Rattle. This recording of the symphony first appeared in 1992 coupled with the Cello Concerto, but Belshazzar’s Feast is completely new, recorded with a combination of atmospheric warmth and clarity unmatched in any version I know, another tribute to the acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

As I said in my earlier review of the symphony (12/92), Rattle with players he knows so well combines expressive freedom with knife-edged precision of ensemble, and it is the same in Belshazzar’s Feast. It is
Read more true that compared with Previn in his vintage 1972 version – still sounding wonderfully well, with the transfer of the analogue recording full and forward – the opening sections are not quite so warmly expressive, have less elbow-room rhythmically. Also, with Previn the celebrations after the king’s death have more jollity in them, where Rattle, with syncopations made exceptionally sharp and biting, conveys much more a manic intensity entirely in keeping with the subject.

Interpretatively, the first point to note is that, taking his cue no doubt from the composer’s own two recordings, Rattle presses ahead more, so that his total timing is over three minutes shorter than those of either Previn or Litton. That incidentally has made all the difference in allowing these two works to be fitted on a single CD. Not that there is any feeling of haste in Rattle’s reading, just of extra tautness, with incisive playing and singing from both the orchestra and the massive chorus. It was an inspired idea to bring in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus alongside the Birmingham chorus. Though other versions have ample weight of choral sound, this new one consistently scores in the terracing of sound, with dynamic shading wonderfully precise and with the semi-chorus magically distinct in such sections as “While the Kings of the Earth” (track 9, 2'42'') and the a cappella section immediately following “The trumpeters and pipers are silent”, here made eerie and chill.

The range and brilliance of the recording helps in that; and though Litton has modern digital sound of comparable range, his Decca recording (made in Winchester Cathedral) allows less clarity, with the work’s final chords setting up obtrusive reverberation. The extreme range of the EMI sound is brought home even before the first fortissimo, when just as the chorus “By the waters of Babylon” is starting, the organ’s pedal note, low D, is both hushed and clear, as are all the organ-pedal effects throughout the work, adding tummy-wobbling intensity. As baritone soloist Thomas Hampson sings immaculately with warm tone and clear focus, and if the description of the writing on the wall is not quite as mysterious as it can be, that again reflects Rattle’s tautness and urgency. As I say, a winning coupling.

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in B flat minor by Sir William Walton
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932-1935; England 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Center 
Length: 44 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Belshazzar's Feast by Sir William Walton
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,  Cleveland Orchestra Chorus,  City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930-1931; England 
Date of Recording: 1997 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England 
Length: 34 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: English 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Go William! April 7, 2012 By Jeffrey S. (West Allis, WI) See All My Reviews "William Walton's works are very rarely performed these days which is unfortunate. This cd recording is one I hope would thrill a newcomer to his music enough to further explore what he has to offer. I am becoming a fan of the conductor Sir Simon Rattle with each work he takes on and here once again he has overwhelmed me especially with those performers he chooses to record with. Thomas Hampson is a performer I have admired since hearing him back in 1990 when I heard him at the Metropolitan Opera and I would buy a ticket to hear him anywhere in anything. Unfortunately, in Belshazzar's Feast there really isn't enough in the score for him to sink his teeth into but that doesn't stop me from listening to whatever there is. Overall, this is a cd deserving to be part of anyone's classical music collection." Report Abuse
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