Neglected delight: Walton's First Symphony; First Symphony: Walton Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley, conductor. NONESUCH H, 71394.
Walton's two symphonies have always been underrated, in my opinion. I first heard this work a few seasons back, with Sir Colin Davis leading the Boston Symphony, and it proved a staggering musical experience. Walton had achieved the ultimate synthesis of new and old traditions, jazz, a '30s restless gloom, crammed into a distinctive style that set the tone for his entire output to date. Everything he has written since has its roots in this colossal work. It has been quite ignored on records -- the old EMI recording with the composer conducting long since gone, as has the superb rendition by Andre Previn and the London Symphony on RCA, a prime reissue candidate for the RCA Gold Seal label.
So one can only greet this new Nonesuch release of a 1978 British Enigma recording with warmth. The performance is not quite as grandiose as Previn's, but it is a fine one, nonetheless, with a creditable effort from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and good rhythmic delineation from conductor Handley. Since Nonesuch is a medium- priced label, this is the ideal way to become acquainted with a neglected masterpiece.
May it also encourage someone to record the Cello Concerto and the Second Symphony (which is currently available on Odyssey with the Cleveland Orchestra under the taut direction of George Szell -- a fine performance in somewhat boxy sound). Walton deserves to be known for more than just his Shakespearean film music and his Violin Concerto.