Friday, 3 June 2011

William Walton: Two Early Songs

The earliest work that has been recorded in the Walton canon is the beautiful Litany for four-part choir dating from December 1915 when the composer was only 14 years old. There is virtually nothing else in the CD catalogues until the underrated, but highly charged and deliciously romantic Piano Quartet composed in 1921 and duly revised some 50 years later.

Whilst Walton was at Oxford he wrote a considerable number of songs, motets and vocal works. Many of these were subsequently discarded. These include the part-song ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’, the early Swinburne setting of ‘Love laid his sleepless head’ and a cantata based on Matthew Arnold’s The Forsaken Merman.
However, I recently discovered two early songs on the Chandos label. To be fair, they have been available since 1994, and they have been in my collection since then: but somehow I have never got round to listening to them. Both are youthful works and have little in them that suggests Walton's later development as an enfant terrible or an establishment composer who was a de facto Master of the Kings Musick!
The first song, dating from 1918, is a setting of Algernon Swinburne's (1837–1909) poem 'The Winds'. This was the first work that William Walton had published. Certainly it is a romantic, almost overblown song that progress with great gusto with a good musical impression of the breeze in the accompaniment. However the strange conclusion of this work with the sudden break in the piano part has been deemed to let this song down.

The second song, 'Tritons' was composed in 1920 and takes a text by the Scottish poet William Drummond (1585–1649)

This is a really impressive song that, as the Chandos liner notes suggest, has ‘vestiges’ of modernism about it. Certainly it has been criticised by Kenneth Avery for having an ambiguous key structure and a monotonous three note phrase dominating the accompaniment. Yet there is something attractive and satisfying about it that makes it a valued addition to William Walton’s early works. Both songs are available on Chandos 9292.

1 comment:

Mathias Richter said...

For the bargain-hunters there is an alternative recording from the Naxos English Song Series (Vol. 1).
The performers are Felicity Lott and Martyn Hill.