Walton: Symphony No. 1; Orb & Sceptre; Crown Imperial

André Previn / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

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Walton: Symphony No. 1; Orb & Sceptre; Crown Imperial Review

by James Leonard

At the time, André Previn's 1967 recording of William Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B flat major with the London Symphony Orchestra on RCA was an enormous revelation for American audiences. Prior to that, the Symphony was the exclusive province of English conductors and while none of them could tame its furious anger, assuage its bottomless sadness, or dim its magnificent finale, none of them seemed able to put the piece across to an American audience. But Previn's superbly played and superbly recorded performance -- with its inexorable malevolence, unrelieved melancholy, and unrestrained joy -- established the work for American audiences as one of the great English symphonies and one of the great symphonies of the 1930s.

Although very fine, Previn's 1987 re-recording of the Walton First with the Royal Philharmonic on Telarc is not quite in the same league. The RPO plays well, but the earlier LSO played with more polish and more power. Telarc's sound is good, but the earlier RCA sound was more vivid and more real. And Previn's conducting is not quite as strong, not quite as incisive, not quite as direct, not quite as animated, and ultimately not quite as convincing as his earlier conducting. Nor do the two orotund and obdurate performances of Walton's Crown Imperial and Orb & Scepter add value to the recording since both works were written by Walton, the lickspittle lackey who curried royal favor, and both performances are at best bathetic and bombastic. Stick with the earlier Previn.

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