William Walton: Symphony No. 1 – Violin Concerto
Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner (conductor)
Recording: Watford Colosseum, Watford (September 2013) & Fairfield Halls, Croydon (February 2014) – 76'30
Chandos CHSA 5136 – Booklet in English, German and French
Edward Gardner conducts a vivid, expertly-played account of Walton's tumultuous First Symphony that nearly matches André Previn's definitive RCA recording of the piece. Gardner's first movement is the most impressive of the four. Imposing and bold in the raucous moments, he achieves more contrast than most in the softer passages, the delicacy of which are well conveyed by the reverberant acoustics. This is less flattering in the second movement. The BBC Symphony Orchestra handles the zippy tempo with ease, but in places the rhythmic detail is lost in the sonic ambience. The "Andante con malinconia" third movement is effectively hushed and eery, but the finale is less successful. Gardner seems to rein in the orchestra's brass, especially in the opening passage, and his penchant for a more leggiero touch in quick passages gives the feeling that this is one of Walton's occassional overtures rather than the finale of a grand symphonic statement.
Tasmin Little recorded the Violin Concerto before, with Andrew Litton and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and this recording reveals more athletic, forthright playing throughout. The venue is different than that used for the First Symphony, and the dryer acoustic here gives more clarity to the orchestral textures, with Little's violin noticeably spotlit. Tempos aren't significantly different at any point in the piece than her earlier effort, but the BBC musicians play with more rhythmic punch and precision than their Bournemouth colleagues, resulting in a much more energetic, infectious second movement. Like the final of the First Symphony, the moody, episodic finale of the Concertois a difficult sell. Little proves that she owns this piece, and constantly engages the listener with singing lines, effortless, wispy figurations, and forthright, athletic playing in the aggressive passages. Gardner mimics Little's diverse playing, proving to be an excellent accompanist.
It is wonderful to have a new perspective on both of these pieces, and to see Edward Gardner continue his excellent string of recordings of colorful repertoire, handsomely served by Chandos' engineers. While Previn's account of the First Symphony remains a must have, fans of this repertoire need not hesitate.
Marcus Karl Maroney