Walton; Rubbra Viola Concertos
It is good to welcome a modern recording of Walton’s Viola Concerto in its original orchestration. When in 1938 Frederick Riddle, principal viola of the LSO, first recorded this seminal work (Dutton, 12/93), Walton had yet to slim down the orchestration to make the concerto more accessible. But even dedicated Waltonians may not notice much difference, particularly when in this fine recording the balance marginally favours the solo instrument. Yet as Leo Black suggests in his booklet-notes, the result “perhaps conveys to a greater extent the freshness and grittiness of Walton’s original conception”.
This was in many ways the breakthrough work in Walton’s early career; it brought together in full maturity his distinctive mixture of yearning lyricism and jazzily syncopated writing. Lawrence Power serves the work superbly, with subtler detail than Lars Anders Tomter (Naxos, 5/96) and a lighter vibrato than Nobuko Imai adopts (Chandos, 4/93). Riddle’s is arguably still the finest version, with speeds marginally faster than modern versions, something approved by Walton. Yet Power, like Tomter and Imai, is not much slower than Riddle in the Andante comodo first movement. In the finale differences in timing between Riddle and modern versions is greater, largely because of the final expansive epilogue, which clearly echoes the accompanied cadenzas of Elgar’s Violin Concerto.
For most Walton enthusiasts the rivals’ couplings will be more attractive but the two Rubbra items here are welcome. His orchestration in the Concerto is never as clear as Walton’s but it suits his musical idiom with its reliance on perfect fourths and other open intervals, as well as plainsong. The Meditations on a Byzantine Theme, the first recording in the version for unaccompanied viola, makes an apt extra. All told, a superb disc, much to be welcomed.