WALTON conducts WALTON: Troilus and Cressida–excerpts; Partita for Orchestra – Richard Lewis, tenor/Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano/Monica Sinclair, mezzo-soprano/Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir William Walton – Pristine Audio PASC 286, 69:37 [Avail. in various formats from www.pristine classical.com] ****:
William Walton’s only full-length opera Troilus and Cressida (1947-1954), after the story by Chaucer, remains a problem child in the composer’s creative history. For the original production, conductor Malcolm Sargent proved as much a hindrance as an ally, sadly under-prepared for the rehearsals and too vain to wear eyeglasses that would have aided in his reading of the parts still in manuscript, he delivered a lackluster performance with cast members who themselves remained unhappy with him. For this April 18-20 May 1955 mono inscription for EMI, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had her own misgivings about singing in English. In the actual stage premier, Cressida fared no better with soprano Magda Laszlo, who spoke no English at all. Walton, writing in tonal and lyrical style, alienated contemporary critics who wanted serially-based contours and claimed that Walton achieved success “only at the expense of his individuality,” referring to Walton’s Wagner or Puccini models for this often slow and meditative drama.
Richard Lewis is in good voice for his opening aria, “Is Cressida a slave?”, his diction clear and his vocal stamina intact. In this scene and the following “Slowly it all comes back,” we hear strong stylistic allusions to Richard Strauss, particularly Salome. Given the natural affinity of the plot to Wagner’s Tristan–with its own version of love-death when Cressida dies rather than endure life with Diomede–the essentially conservative nature of the harmonic scheme adds little to the composer’s syntax, which had been more daring in his First Symphony. Schwarzkopf’s aria “How can I sleep?”, despite the natural lyricism of her voice, projects a static quality because of the clichés of the idiom: “How can I sleep while love is waiting?” seems a poor man’s answer to “Nessun dorma” even in the face of Schwarzkopf’s high notes. The love scene ensues with “If one last doubt remains,” in which Troilus asks permission “to kneel and adore.” At “Come alive in my arms,” the orchestra aids in Cressida’s conceit that “in my heart the yellow leaves are turning green.” In their mutual passion, the lovers beseech the blessed assistance of Aphrodite. “Now close your arms” serves as the Liebesnacht, the lovers a mutual sanctuary from political and personal encroachments, even if the passionate orchestral part does not completely agree.
The scoring for the extended scene, “All’s well,” seems to derive from both Mahler’s The Song of the Earth and Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. Cressida expresses her wavering faith in Troilus’ fidelity, and her servant Evadne (Monica Sinclair) offers cold comfort. The descending scale sounds virtually like Tchaikovsky despite the battery’s attempts to modernize the sonority. Cressida’s final plea to see once more her beloved with his sword, armed to defend her love and honor, indeed projects some authentic pathos. “The Watchman’s cry and the wind in the long grass blowing” survive as Cressida’s only consolation. The shrieks that accompany the final scene, “Diomede! Father!” echo Richard Strauss once more, but Walton avoids Sprechstimme for a mournful parlando style that plays as coloratura recitative in imitation of Debussy’s Pelleas. It seems that Walton simply has not been able to transcend his influences in this opera, and he swore he never again indulge in a medium that demands “too many words!”
Walton composed his Partita for Orchestra as part of the fortieth year celebration of the Cleveland Orchestra, and George Szell led the premier 30 January 1958. Walton’s stereo recording from 6 and 16 February 1959 resonates with hearty energy and vibrant orchestration. Each of the movements showcases the orchestral vigor of the ensemble, and the Philharmonia of London certainly meets all virtuoso demands. The opening Toccata imbibes something of Walton’s own ceremonial music for coronations and the Olivier film Henry V. The second movement Pastorale Siciliana at first echoes Respighi in its invocation of Baroque sensibilities, but it goes its own way into sarcastic riffs that ally it to the composer’s familiar Façade Suite. Trumpet, trombone, and percussion collaborate to make the Giga burlesca a gaudily festive Neapolitan romp that might make us compare Walton with a modern Rossini.
— Gary Lemco
Frederick Stock conducts Chicago Symphony, Vol. 2 – Pristine Audio
A great addition to the Frederick Stock archive