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 Recording of the Week  Anthony Marwood performs Walton's Violin Concerto

While not exactly a rarity either in concert or on disc, it seems to me that William Walton's Violin Concerto is perhaps not quite as frequently performed as other concertos from around the same time by composers such as Korngold and Barber. I wonder if this is partly because of the nature of the piece itself: it's less flashy than one might possibly expect from a concerto, and although it certainly has its bravura moments, for much of the piece the mood is more introspective and brooding, especially from the soloist. It's this temperament that violinist Anthony Marwood captures so beautifully on his new recording with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins.

Anthony Marwood
Anthony Marwood

The opening of the piece is a case in point: after an introductory phrase played by melancholic clarinets, Marwood gently entwines himself with the orchestral texture. He's never flashy for its own sake, and yet his virtuosity and absolute command come across at every moment. Both he and the orchestra respond wonderfully to the concerto's changing moods, whether it be applying just the right amount of swagger in the central section of the second movement, or the ease with which the third movement shifts from characterful bassoons and gritty orchestral strings to the most lyrical passages from Marwood.

Even rarer works make up most of the rest of this disc, including Variations on a Theme by Hindemith, and the Partita for orchestra. The Hindemith Variations were an unexpected pleasure for me: Walton starts the piece with a two-minute chunk from Hindemith's Cello Concerto (slightly re-orchestrated but otherwise pretty much unadulterated Hindemith), and then moves (as the title of the piece suggests!) through a series of variations; it's fascinating to hear the way that Walton reworks the material, and to my ears at least sounded very much more Walton than Hindemith.

The Partita sees Walton on more playful ground. For the 1958 premiere he was asked to provide a programme note, but declined on the grounds that there was really nothing to say: "My Partita poses no problems, has no ulterior motive or meaning behind it, and makes no attempt to ponder the imponderables". That's not to say there isn't much delightful music, however, not least in the central Pastorale Siciliana, which begins with a beautiful duet for solo viola and oboe. The cheeky nature of the final movement, with pleasingly gung-ho turns from horns and trumpets, very much put me in mind of some of the more spirited music of Malcolm Arnold.

Speaking of Arnold, something that he and Walton have in common is the significant contribution they made to the world of film music. One of the four films scored by Walton in 1942 was The First of the Few, about the design and production of the Spitfire aircraft. So popular was his music that later that year he refashioned some of it into the concert work, Spitfire Prelude and Fugue. Although stylistically it's not really anything like the other three works on this, it makes for a stirring coda, especially when performed as vigorously as it is here. The "big tune" of the Prelude rings out in full patriotic fashion, whilst the intricate Fugue is deftly and energetically played, with the contrapuntal lines kept very well balanced by Brabbins, and there's a nice change of pace and mood in the central, more contemplative section. A rousing conclusion to a fascinating disc that's well worth investigating, especially if you're tempted to explore some of Walton's lesser-known works.

Walton: Violin Concerto, Partita & Hindemith Variations

Anthony Marwood (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins

Available Format: CD