Walton Gramophone premières
Harty was responsible for two premieres of the Walton First Symphony. He conducted the unfinished version comprising three movements in December 1934, and then unveiled the newly completed score in November 1935. His recording was made just one month after the first complete performance, and shows clearly how much of the work's success was due to his inspired advocacy. He brings out the vehemence and passion very starkly, but also finds an underlying rock-like strength, and this underpins the more obvious emotions very effectively. He also brings out a certain dignity as well as anger and melancholic regret in the slow movement. At this period the LSO was dragging itself up from the mediocrity of previous years in order to come to terms with the more competitive London scene of the 1930s, and it rewards Harty with some very good playing. This first, very powerful and moving reading of the score has only been rivalled by the composer's own 1951 performance on HMV (scheduled for reissue at a future date).
Anybody who has tried to listen to the original Decca 78s will understand why it was always felt that the recording did neither Harty nor the work justice. A short-lived 1985 Decca LP transfer cleaned up the sound pretty well, but Michael Dutton's new one has found an astonishing depth and sonority, even if the image sometimes seems a little synthetic, with a contrived stereo spread in the acoustic.
Frederick Riddle, the young leader of the LSO's viola section, took on the first-ever recording of the Viola Concerto at short notice as a replacement for Paul Hindemith, who found himself unable to travel to England for the sessions. These facts are not revealed in Christopher Palmer's otherwise excellent notes. Riddle rises to the occasion wonderfully well, playing with an unforced eloquence and a fine quality of tone. Walton conducts very capably, and the performance as a whole is more lyrical and reflective than the slightly fierce William Primrose version of 1946, which Walton also conducts (EMI, 9/91). Decca's recording techniques had greatly improved in the two years since the symphony sessions, and here I rather feel that Dutton has slightly coarsened the sound of the original 78s. The entertaining Facade songs complete a very welcome disc.