Walton: Symphony 1, Violin Concerto / Little, Gardner, BBC Symphony

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Edward Gardner’s view of William Walton’s First Symphony is exciting enough, but different enough, so that we can spare ourselves the usual “it’s not Previn and the LSO” apologia. Gardner’s performance of the finale is probably the most brilliant yet recorded: swift, bold, and dazzling, with a smashing (literally) coda. By contrast, the first movement is a touch on the light side, with the uniquely speedy account of the last few minutes offering plenty of energy but less sheer power than usual, especially from the brass. It works because it moves, and after the snappy scherzo and bittersweet slow movement, Gardner’s approach throws some of the emphasis in the large-scale argument onto a finale that in so many performances comes across as unconvincing.

In other words, Gardner has a genuinely original and valid conception of the work, different from anyone else’s, and he has the chops to get the BBC Symphony to do his bidding. This is a real achievement.

In these circumstances the Violin Concerto comes as a bonus. Tasmin Little has recorded the work before, for Litton on Decca, and let’s face it: she’s a good violinist but not so great that she deserves another shot at the same work. Is there a Tasmin Little Society lining up for this? She obviously understands the work, from the romantic cantilena at the start to the brilliant passagework in the central scherzo and finale. So far, so good. What she doesn’t have is a big tone, especially in her upper register, and I am not saying this in comparison only to Heifetz. Just consider James Ehnes, Joshua Bell, or Kyung Wha Chung. The recorded balance between soloist and orchestra, very natural, with plenty of space around the instrument, paradoxically also makes Little sound, well, littler than she otherwise might. Never mind; the symphony’s the thing.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHSA 5136

  • UPC: 095115513620

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Sir William Walton

  • Conductor: Edward Gardner

  • Performer: Tasmin Little