Here is another winner from Martyn Brabbins, following such excellence for Hyperion as his previous Walton and – related to this current release – Hindemith and Elgar. I started with the brilliant Partita (placed second) that William Walton wrote in 1958 for the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell. They made a gold-standard recording of it (CBS/Sony) – with playing of remarkable precision. Brabbins sets a slightly more-moderate pace for the opening ‘Toccata’ but the music is no-less vibrant and dynamic (to my mind structurally modelled on the corresponding movement of Roussel’s Suite in F), and Brabbins has the edge in the central ‘Pastorale siciliana’, slinky and sensuous, followed by the merriment/buffoonery of the ‘Giga burlesca’ with its cheeky-chappie trumpet solo (given later to horns) dryly witty from Mark O’Keeffe.
The Violin Concerto opens the disc, written by Walton for Jascha Heifetz, seductive and scintillating by turns, here featuring Anthony Marwood. Four recordings of it came racing to the mind immediately (and I’ll think of others) and they are: Heifetz/Walton, Menuhin/Walton, Haendel/Berglund and Kennedy/Previn. Marwood and Brabbins inveigle a deeply considered account of this cosmopolitan music, whether richly lyrical or emotionally explosive, contrasts which of course the composer intended. However, this is neither a milking nor a show-off performance but rather an integrated one that entices as much as it also lifts the lid – organically. Such a wholeness of approach is especially successful in the Finale, the longest of the three movements, which here emerges as both explorative and a glorious summation. The middle movement – Presto capriccioso alla napolitana, with a Trio Canzonetta – is especially fine from Marwood, a high-wire act in the outer sections and wistful in the central song. However difficult the solo part is (and Heifetz made sure that it is, topping even the challenges that Walton had presented him with), Marwood gives us the music, and what a wonderful piece it is, here blest with a sympathetic and vivid accompaniment, the latter a useless word given Walton’s panoramic use of the orchestra.
The consummately inventive Hindemith Variations (1963) derive from the second movement of the German composer’s 1940 Cello Concerto. The somewhat melancholy Theme proved seminal to Walton’s ingenious commentaries on it, and, as Robert Matthew-Walker says in his booklet note, the work is a “deeply felt homage from one great composer to another”; it’s also a testimony to a many-year friendship, for the multi-skilled Hindemith had premiered Walton’s Viola Concerto back in 1929. Walton’s musical and scoring virtuosity is to the fore in this wide-ranging and substantial piece that is done handsome service to by the BBCSSO and Brabbins, whether intimately expressive, fleet and spectral (Walton often with a twinkle in the eye), or grandiose.
The disc closes with the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, derived from Walton’s music for the 1942 film The First of the Few, co-producer and director Leslie Howard starring as R. J. Mitchell the designer of the fighter aircraft, the cast also including David Niven. The Prelude is Walton at his most Elgarian (patriotic) and the Fugue finds him contrapuntally sovereign; Brabbins leads a rousing and exhilarating account. Two producers (Graeme Taylor and Andrew Keener) and two engineers (Andrew Trinick and Simon Eadon) are credited but the quality is consistently and seamlessly distinguished (if not the orchestral layout, a small point) over the eighty-one splendid minutes, music for all seasons.