I sometimes wish that I had not been so quick off the mark in getting rid of my vinyl following the advent of CDs. In 1975 I was the proud owner of André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in William Walton’s Symphony No.2. This was released on the HMV Label, ASD 2990 and was coupled with the composer’s overtures Portsmouth Point and Scapino. An added bonus was Constant Lambert’s wonderful The Rio Grande for chorus, pianist and orchestra.
At this time, I had not heard George Szell’s recording made in 1962 with the Cleveland Orchestra on Columbia SAX 2459. This LP included Walton’s Partita. It was subsequently re-released in 1965 on Columbia 33CX 1935, this time coupled with the Hindemith Variations. Szell’s recording of the Symphony had been made during February and March, 1961. As will be seen in John McCabe’s review of the Previn disc, and comments in The Gramophone below, this was the benchmark recording for many years.
When, in the late ‘eighties I bought the Chandos version of the symphony, (CHAN 8772 CD) with Bryden Thomson conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, I put the Previn LP to one side: I have not seen it since. However, I do have the CD reissue, so all is not lost.
William Walton’s Symphony No.2 was commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society in 1957 and was completed in 1960. It was given its first performance at the Edinburgh Festival on 2 September 1960, and was simultaneously broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under John Pritchard.
Leslie East, writing in Music & Musicians (December 1974) suggests that ‘Middle-period Walton can be stodgy and predictable and, in spite some fine moments, the second symphony, does…fall into these categories. Previn’s devotion to Walton’s music is always evident, and the LSO tackle the symphony’s trickiness with customary fluency. Nevertheless with Walton well represented in the catalogue, why not more Lambert?’
Further on in the review East suggests that the record producers would have been better substituting Lambert’s Music for Orchestra, instead of the two Walton Overtures. In 2016, it is still a matter for concern that there are only two recordings of Music for Orchestra in the catalogues: Barry Wordsworth conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Lyrita SRCD.215 (1999) and a ‘historical’ recording by Constant Lambert and the Philharmonia Orchestra made in 1948. This is available on Dutton CDBP 9761.
JW (John Warrack) writing in The Gramophone (May 1974) states, ‘Previn’s feeling for Walton’s music assures exuberant performance here. He drives vigorously through all the rowdiness of Portsmouth Point and touches the dry lyricism of Scapino, and though I doubt it will replace the standard Szell version –gives a performance of the Second Symphony that is particularly successful at responding to the melancholy in the best movement of the three, the Lento.’ The remainder of his review examines Lambert’s The Rio Grande.
It is often hard to forget the recording of a work that one first heard. Since 1974 there have been a number of versions of Walton’s Symphony No.2 released. These include CD releases of both Previn and Szell. The new Chandos disc featuring Edward Gardner conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra has received many plaudits in recent months. These are listed in full on the MusicWeb International National Discographies pages.
The next part of this post will concentrate on John McCabe's essential review of the Previn LP.