Friday, March 26, 2010

Walton: Symphony No. 1 - Leonard Slatkin

William Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor is a new favorite of mine. It's a wordless tale of anxiety, struggle, and triumph, composed in the 1930s. Though the 1966 Previn/LSO recording is the benchmark, Slatkin does an awesome job with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in this out-of-print recording from 1987. The recording also includes the Portsmouth Point Overture. The album cover shows the very painting by Rowlandson that inspired Walton to compose the overture.

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I hope you enjoy this. If you like, feel free to check out Previn's recording of the First Symphony on William Walton: Collected Works - an excellent compilation album of classic performances.

Walton also composed a second symphony, which he finished in 1960 - completely different in character but quite excellent in its own strange, cerebral way. See my review page for more thoughts on Walton and other musicians, authors, etc...


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shostakovich on the Finale of the Fifth

Dmitri Shostakovich had a wry sense of humor. On the finale of the fifth, Shostakovich wrote:

"What exultation could there be? I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, 'Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.' What kind of apotheosis is that?"

"A Soviet artist's reply to just criticism" was how Shostakovich billed the release of the symphony ... ha! The government was ready to send him to Siberia, so he had to change the tone of his music or wither away in a camp. What he managed to do was make the Party happy while snickering at them. You can hear it in the music.

The ending still conveys a kind of hard-won triumph, even more so when we listen to it today. Those were tough circumstances for creating art and music - always a dictator to please.