Like Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Stravinsky's a Soldier's Tale (1918), William Walton's Façade (1921) is a melodrama of sprechtstimme and jaunty rhythms. It can be comic, playful, arch, or melancholic, sometimes within the same piece. Set to the complex and often silly poems of Edith Sitwell, Walton's music spans diverse styles: waltzes, tarantellas, tangos, fanfares, even Swiss yodeling songs. They are such cleverly executed miniatures, they integrate seamlessly with the poems. With surreal outrageous lines like these – "So Jo put the luggage and the label/In the pocket of Flo the Kangeroo" – the poem Tango-Pasodoble would seem impossible to orchestrate. Yet Walton's moody clarinets, intrusive trumpets, and snappy percussion infuse the piece with the merriment it deserves.
Actress Lynn Redgrave reads with aggressive intonation, coupled with a keen perception of this poetry's daffy rhythms. She provides charming accents (Irish, upper class British, cockney) and uses them to satirize the many characters who appear. Unfortunately, she sometimes reads too quickly and slurs her words, producing more sound than sense. Poems like Hornpipe and Tarantella are difficult enough to absorb when read, nearly impossible when heard at her breakneck pace. In other poems the balance between voice and instrument degrades and music drowns the recitation, as in Something Lies Beyond the Scene. Keep the CD booklet nearby and pretend you're listening to a Britten opera whose words consistently elude you.
The CD contains both Façade volumes that Walton orchestrated, as well as eleven Sitwell poems that have no musical accompaniment. While Redgrave reads these additional poems well, I would have preferred that the producer filled the remaining fourteen minutes with short pieces by Walton, perhaps instrumental interludes or even some songs. Edith Sitwell's poetry is loaded with thrilling word-play arabesques and wacky notions, but can, like habanero peppers, be difficult for some to digest in large doses. With music, they zip through baronial halls of absurdity.
Copyright © 1998, Peter Bates