Wednesday, 13 July 2016

William Walton: Symphony No.2 on HMV LP Part II

John McCabe began his review in Records and Recording (May 1974) by admitting that ‘Walton’s Second Symphony is immediately up against the most formidable competition in Szell’s famous performance on CBS Classics.’ He admitted that the coupling with his ‘favourite Walton piece, the Hindemith Variations’ made that disc appealing. He considers that Previn’s reading of the Symphony is ‘seldom drastically different from Szell’ but he gives it ‘a subtly new slant and if anything emphasises its symphonic manner.’
McCabe recalls much of the negative criticism the Symphony received at its premiere. It was felt that it was ‘slighter’ than the great First Symphony (1932-35): critics believed that it was too conservative in light of the efforts of the rising avant-garde. It was deemed to have been spun out of slender material. McCabe insisted that as one gets to know the work (he was writing 13 years after its premiere) the ‘formal properties’ and the ‘delightful colourings’ come into focus.
The remainder of McCabe’s review is a detailed comparison between the Szell and the Previn versions of the Symphony.  For example, the slow movement is ‘equally luscious and velvety, if a shade darker [and] a little more memorable here and there’. Previn brings out ‘most satisfyingly the [first] movement's large-scale stature…but like Szell’s it is a ‘scintillating performance.’ Previn uses a classical approach to the final Passacaglia that points up the ‘variations [as] decorations of a through-bass.’ The conclusion is that there is little to choose between them, save that I guess he leans towards Previn’s account.  

The review concludes by suggesting that the LP is ‘aided by stunning playing [by the LSO] and a sonorous beautifully balanced, warm recording, it is a magnificent achievement.’ McCabe realises that some reviewers (Leslie East, for example) who would have rather had one of Walton’s major works as a coupling will be disappointed.  However, the ‘splendid’ performances of Portsmouth Point is ‘powerful and vigorous’ and Scapino is ‘scintillating, but warm and rather less aggressive than one sometimes hears.’  The performance of Lambert’s The Rio Grande is ‘admirable.’  John McCabe concludes his review by hoping that André Previn would turn his attention to the Hindemith Variations and the Gloria. Alas, he never did.  

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