WILLIAM WALTON: Symphony No. 1 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live

by | Jul 9, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

WILLIAM WALTON: Symphony No. 1  – London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live Multichannel SACD LSO0576, 46:01 ****:When Walton was working on his First Symphony – which covered a lengthy period of 1931 to 1935 – he was already basking in the limelight as the most exciting young British composer of the time. This was probably mainly due to the tremendous popularity of his oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast, which captivated the general public in the UK (and still does). The music of Sibelius was very popular with the British public and Walton struggled to cast his musical ideas into the form of an abstract symphony inspired by the Finnish composer’s work.

Although there is no program, strong emotions seem to bubble under the surface during its course, and the short Scherzo second movement is marked “Presto, with malice.”  The tensions of the 1930s affected its design, but the First Symphony has a modern and universal appeal which does not date it in the least. Driving rhythms characterize much of the work, plus the modern harmonies so distinctively Waltonian – seeming to occupy a space between the Hollywoodish and the semi-atonal. The first movement is the longest, and some of its themes make use of long held notes which set up a strong symphonic tension in the work.

This is considered Walton’s masterpiece, and the live performance – recorded last year in London’s Barbican Center – successfully plays up the drama of the work.  At least one of our reviewers would downgrade the number of stars above since although we have here an excellent 46 minutes, it’s only 46 minutes, leaving up to 34 minutes space for other Walton works which were not taken advantage of. True, there are several wonderful Walton overtures, any one of which would have been a good disc mate, but I’m still giving this four stars.

– John Sunier

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