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CD Review

William Walton

  • Symphony #1 in B Flat minor
  • 'Belshazzar's Feast'
Donald Bell, tenor
Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus/William Walton
EMI Walton Edition CDM5650042 79m ADD Rec: 1953/59
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Walton was an extremely good conductor of his own music and this coupling should need no further recommendation from me. The youthful Philharmonia was at the height of its interpretative powers when these recordings were made and this shows in the superbly trenchant playing of the magnificent First Symphony. In many ways this recording blazes a trail as similar to Harty's equally glorious mid 30's performance for Decca but this is recorded in (obviously) far superior sound.

The menace of the Allegro assai is indeed well caught as is the biting savagery and eloquent triumph of the Finale, which is played at a truly daredevil speed causing this listener to almost drop from the edge of his seat! The same directness and exhaustive élan is imposed on 'Belshazzar's Feast', not one of my favourite Waltonian works but superbly structured nonetheless. Donald Bell is a suitably accomplished baritone whilst the newly formed Philharmonia Chorus have a field day in the full-throated passages especially in 'Praise ye the God of Gold'.

Walton is unbuttoned but at the same time his firm grip makes this reading one of the best ever eclipsing many of his notable successors such as Hickox who is excellent but who must yield to the authority of this unrepeatable recording. EMI's new transfers are excellent in their ambience and range and I have no hesitation in urging all collectors to acquire this disc immediately.

Copyright © 2001, Gerald Fenech