WALTON: Belshazzar's Feast.  Symphony No. 1.
Donald McIntyre, baritone; BBC Chorus; BBC Choral Society; Christ Church Harmonic Choir; BBC Symphony Orch/Sir William Walton, cond.  Royal Philharmonic Orch/Sir William Walton, cond. (Symphony)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4097 (F) (ADD) TT:  77:43
 

WALTON:  The Quest (complete ballet).  Siesta. The Wise Virgins Ballet Suite. 
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones, cond.
NAXOS 8.555868 (B) (DDD) TT: 62:59

Two CDs essential to any Walton collection.  Sir William Walton recorded Belshazzar's Feast and his first symphony for EMI, the latter in 1951 with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He recorded his huge oratorio twice, first in 1943 then in stereo in 1959. Now, thanks to BBC Legends we have these powerful live performances of both, Belshazzar recorded in Royal Festival Hall Sept. 22, 1965, the Symphony from the Edinburgh Festival recorded in Usher Hall Aug. 23, 1959. 

Walton said he could and did conduct his own music better than most conductors; surely in these remarkable performances he proves that. The huge oratorio receives a magnificent performance recorded during the first Commonwealth Arts Festival. A major plus here is the broadcast quality—this is one of the most natural-sounding big choral recordings you'll hear, massive in texture yet clear and without distortion. Walton also recorded his Symphony No. 1 (the first recording was made in the mid-'30s right after the premiere of the finished version, with Hamilton Harty and the London Symphony); this live recording finds the Royal Philharmonic rather thin in sound—there simply aren't enough strings in that cataclysmic fourth movement ending. Still this is a valuable document. If we are lucky, BBC Legends might issue the early '70's Proms recording with André Previn and the London Symphony, which I've heard from an off-the-air broadcast tape, a stunning reading superior to his 1966 RCA recording with the same orchestra which, in itself, is considered to be among the finest ever made—and preferable to his much later Telarc remake with the Royal Philharmonic.

Walton's ballet The Quest has been unjustly neglected. The story, taken from Spenser's The Faerie Queene, is a contest between good and evil, with a number of disguised characters which makes the plot rather confusing. Written for Frederick Ashton, The Quest was premiered in 1943 with a lustrous cast including Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann, with Constant Lambert on the podium. In spite of  the glamorous cast, it was a failure and the score was lost until 1958 when it was discovered in a London warehouse. The composer approved a short suite which the composer recorded; the full score was recorded by Bryden Thomson for Chandos (8871) in an arrangement for large orchestra by Christopher Palmer. David Lloyd-Jones has returned to the original score, with limited retouching and a few excisions approved by the composer. Lloyd-Jones continues to impress (his recent Naxos Planets is among the best; see REVIEW).  The "English Northern Philharmonia" actually is the Orchestra of Opera North—obviously an ensemble of virtuoso quality. The CD is filled out with Bach arranged by Walton in the form of The Wise Virgins ballet suite, and the gentle Siesta. Naxos' engineering team (Producer Andrew Keener/Engineer Mike Clements) has done a spectacular job. This CD—and the BBC Legends disk—are essential for those who love music of Walton..

R.E.B.  (August 2002)