WALTON Symphony No 2. Viola Concerto
This latest Nimbus disc of Walton is a companion for the outstanding earlier issue of the First Symphony and Violin Concerto from the same forces (10/10). It came as rather a surprise to me in that earlier disc that an orchestra I had hardly heard of should play Walton’s difficult scores with such finesse and warmth, a lesson for some of our British orchestras and a fine tribute to American standards. </p>
<p>The Second Symphony is a wonderfully crafted work in which Waltonian electricity is not of such a high voltage as in the First. Nonetheless, William Boughton draws from the New Haven orchestra a comparably magnetic performance. The jazzy syncopations so typical of Walton need to have a degree of freedom, which is just what an English conductor and an American orchestra achieve. The first movement is the strongest and sets the pattern for the whole performance, with its elaborate instrumentation including a piano as well as extra percussion. The second movement comes as a slight disappointment when its themes are not as striking as so many of Walton’s are. Boughton then has great success in the finale, where he brings out the tongue-in-cheek element in the composers’s use of a 12‑note theme for the variations, a joyous conclusion to the work.</p>
<p>When it comes to the Viola Concerto, we have a triumphant performance, thanks to the stunning playing of the soloist, Roberto Díaz, Principal Viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra until 2006, when he became Principal of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. It is striking that though Díaz gives a virtuoso performance, it is not one that calls attention to itself but always works with the orchestra. From first to last this is a haunting performance. </p>
<p>The two supplementary items have the same understanding qualities as the two main works. The <i>Spitfire Prelude and Fugue</i>, drawn from the music Walton wrote for the film <i>The First of the Few</i>, makes a most satisfying item on its own terms, while <i>Crown Imperial</i>, written for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, with its fanfare opening theme and glorious central melody, matches any of Elgar’s marches in fervour. Beautifully recorded in live performances in Woolsey Hall, New Haven, this is another winner among Walton discs.