The Violin Concerto by William Walton is England’s other great violin concerto. In the shadow of the great Concerto by Edward Elgar, Walton’s violin gem has struggled and succeeded into the mainstream repertoire helped in no small way by the championing of Heifetz, who commissioned the work in 1936.
From Heifetz’ superb later recording of the work with the composer conducting the Philharmonia, the Walton Concerto has been well served on LP and CD. My favourite for many years was the Harmonia Mundi CD with Aaron Rosand and Florida Phil with Jimmy Judd conducting. A fabulous recording of a non superstar violinist and provincial US orchestra, both on top form. We get the same here, with English violinist Thomas Bowes and a provincial Swedish opera orchestra.
Bowes begins the Walton Concerto as dreamy and as passionate as any, and the musical lines are served beautifully by his gorgeous tone. Intonation is true throughout and his technique is exceptional. Walton received 300 pounds from Heifetz for the commission and was much in love with Alice Wimborne at the time of composition. Composing the work was difficult for Walton but the lyricism and elegiac style hints at the passion in his life. Bowes captures the intense, arching melodies with ease and phrases them exquisitely. For a change of mood, the very fast final two movements test the technique of both violinist and orchestra. So, what a surprise it was to hear the very fine Malmo Opera Orchestra eat up the speed and tricky rhythmic changes with aplomb. Violinist, now conductor, Joseph Swensen accompanies respectfully. Ensemble is fine throughout the recording and Swensen gets to shine even more brightly in very good readings of Walton’s music from Henry V and Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio.
The Bowes brilliance continues in an equally knockout reading of Barber’s beautiful Violin Concerto (1939). This concerto had a much more bumpy ride to main street due to the meddling of various influential musicians and benefactors. Yet, its wonderful musicality and charm have seen it through the mediocrity of initial criticism into the mainstream repertoire. Once again, Bowes sings the melodies with a ravishing tone and a brilliant technique and the Malmo orchestra accompanies with great style and character.
An easy recommendation for this coupling. Superb performances by Bowes, Swensen and his fine orchestra in wonderful sound.
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