William Walton - Symphony No. 1 WILLIAM WALTON - Symphony No. 1 - Violin Concerto - Kurt Nikkanen (Violin) - William Boughton (Conductor) - New Haven Symphony Orchestra - Nimbus Alliance NI6119

In this day and age, it is always a pleasure to come accross headlines like this: "The New Haven Symphony Orchestra and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, are pleased to announce the launch of the William Walton Project." It seems that Walton's original manuscripts, which are part of the Frederick R. Koch Collection housed in this library, will be the focus of attention and source in the preparation of all the recordings and performances that will be part of this project.

This is the first recording of this four year undertaking, and it couldn't have started any better. Two of William Walton's most significant works, the Symphony No. 1 from 1935 and the Violin Concerto from 1939, together on the same disc is already a plus, but when they are performed as well as they are here, it just doesn't get any better. William Boughton, a conductor with a long string of fine recordings on the Nimbus label, explains that he grew up with Walton's music and even heard him conduct his First Symphony in London. He delivers a slower than average reading of the work, and by doing so takes the time to peel back the outer layer of the music and reveal all the inner workings in fine detail. Walton apparently labored arduously over this symphony, so it's nice to hear a conductor labor arduously to show us why. It's a work full of tension, created by all the different motifs and subjects jousting for the lead, and a constant underlying rhythm and momentum that drives everything forward. Many conductors have given this symphony, especially the first movement, more urgency and nervous energy, but having heard both sides of the coin, I now prefer Boughton's more relaxed and detailed approach. The slow movement in particular has never been this lyrical. The main subject is given all the time it needs to unfold. The fugal material in the final movement is clear and focused, and the fanfares and pomp given the proper weight. I might be wrong, but I believe this is the New Haven Symphony Orchestra's first recording, but they sound like a well seasoned top rank ensemble. Wait 'til you hear the piccolo, bright and clear, amidst those massive orchestral blows that end the symphony.

The Violin Concerto receives the same care and attention here. Violinist Kurt Nikkanen delivers a superlative account, full of emotive lyricism in the slower segments, and verve and enthusiasm in the weird and convulsive, Sibelius tinged middle movement. The recorded sound for both works is spacious, in the usual Nimbus manner, warm in the softer passages and full of impact in the orchestral tuttis. This should prove to be a fascinating four years.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2010