Façade Suites I & II
Variations on a theme by Hindemith
Paul Neubauer (viola)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: DECCA 470 200-2
Andrew Litton’s Bournemouth SO/Decca accounts of Walton’s two symphonies seem to have come and gone; only Belshazzar’s Feast remains listed on 448 134-2.
This is the first release for recordings made in March 1996, originally intended, presumably, as a formatted continuation of Litton’s previous three Walton CDs. Instead it is given a mid-price entry in Decca’s ’British Music Collection’. Either as a completion for the seasoned Walton collector, or as an introduction to his music, this is a superb CD, spaciously recorded with ambience and clarity in ideal accord.
It’s a nice mix of pieces too. If Façade in its original version, with two megaphone-armed reciters and a small ensemble of players, is for me the one piece of Walton that hasn’t stood the test of time, then his orchestration of eleven numbers from it is a winner. A winning performance too from Litton who realises Walton has so perfectly embedded his ’naughty’ references and allusions into his embrace of popular song and dance that they don’t need to be underlined. This is equally true of Walton’s satire. Litton appreciates Walton’s pastiche to a nicety and encourages playing of finesse and exactness from his ’old’ orchestra (he was Principal Conductor from 1988-94); throughout, Litton’s refinement is a perfect foil for Walton’s wit – I don’t think I’ve heard this music better done.
The Viola Concerto is also given a wonderful reading, one magnetic and judiciously Romantic. I’ve not heard Paul Neubauer before, which surprises me because he possesses a rich, dark tone and encompasses the technical difficulties of the solo part with aplomb. From the off, he and Litton are inside the music’s fantasy, the expressive ebb-and-flow of Walton’s long and passionately suggestive melodies. With instrumental strands touched in with discretion and a tangible long-term awareness of where the music is going – the cumulative tension of the finale’s climax is electrifying – there’s a balance between narrative and structure that is deeply satisfying. Walton’s overall design of slow, fast and moderate movements, the latter ending the concerto in full-circle tranquil mood, is convincingly realised, the first two collectively as long as the last. The central ’Vivo’ is one of Walton’s great spectral scherzos; the amount of perfectly placed detail is astonishing, as is Walton’s ability to dovetail lithe motion with emotional swell. Neubauer and Litton, aided by some nimble orchestral playing, make hay with this brilliant creation.
It was the composer Paul Hindemith who premiered Walton’s Viola Concerto, in 1929. So it’s a good idea to include Walton’s Hindemith Variations, first performed in 1963, the theme being from the second movement of Hindemith’s Cello Concerto. As ever, Walton’s use of the orchestra is masterly. But there’s more to Walton than that. Throughout all his music, even the showpieces, there’s a vein of emotion that undulates; every bar communicates something – a feeling, a sense of location, sheer humanity. If Walton was a retiring man, reluctant to explain his music’s genesis, then he is unequivocally in his music, which is personal, individual and speaks direct with dazzling technical confidence and an expressional vulnerability that anyone who is alive (in the fullest sense) can empathise with.
Walton wrote slowly, chiselling his music in his workshop until it was finely honed. Yet it has spontaneity and real heart; it can leap off the page. The varied episodes of his tribute to Hindemith are perfectly formed; Walton’s rhythmic guile, generous lyricism and fantastic ear for glittering, rich and intimate sounds inform each commentary. Litton’s account is closely observed and he has the bigger picture in view too in a performance brimming with life and sensitivity that concludes an impressive release – proof, if any is needed, that Walton is a great composer.