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CD Review

William Walton

Orchestral Works

  • Viola Concerto
  • Sonata for String Orchestra
  • Hindemith Variations
Nobuko Imai, viola
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Latham-Koenig
Chandos CHAN9106 - 80min
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This generously filled release brings together three first-rate, but under-recorded works by one of the greatest 20th century British composers. Imai weighs in with a heartwarming, yet vibrant interpretation of Walton's only Viola Concerto. Her rich, golden tone is absolutely right for this sweetly nostalgic work, and she shapes each phrase with all the understanding of a great singer. Imai can also be lively and exciting when called upon – as in the jazzy 2nd movement. Sonically, Chandos places Imai rather far forward, but that's not really a liability in this work, where the spotlight is clearly on the soloist. Latham-Koenig's accompaniment is vivid, lively, and responsive.

Latham-Koenig is at his very best in the Sonata, which Walton himself arranged from a 1947 String Quartet in the summer of 1971. As Christopher Palmer points out in his informative notes, I of the Quartet was reworked extensively while the remaining sections remain substantially unchanged. The outer movements here are lively, exciting, and rhythmically vital. III is the emotional heart of the work, and Latham-Koenig brilliantly emphasizes its beauty, drama, and emotional depth. The strings of the London Philharmonic have rarely sounded better, and their rich, lovely tone is perfectly suited to Latham-Koenig's approach. Overall this is a deeply moving performance.

In the Hindemith Variations, Latham-Koenig emphasizes the score's dark orchestral textures, and he chooses a rather deliberate pace. This approach is not invalid by any means, and this interpretation clearly highlights the Hindemithian elements that abound in Walton's score. However, I find that George Szell's lighter, leaner textures and faster pacing (requiring just 22:42 as compared to Koenig's 24:17) make for a much more lively and effective performance. Despite my slight reservations about the Variations, this recording should not be missed.

Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide