William Walton’s grand opera after Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida, was premiered in 1954 at Covent Garden. It is a large-scale, lush work, containing surging romantic duets for the lovers. Orchestrally, it sounds not unlike a Korngold film score of the 1940s but suffused with typical Waltonian rhythms and turns of phrase. This was not a cutting-edge style at the time, and the opera failed to enter the repertory: critics dismissed it as old fashioned, and the public found it less melodically memorable than Puccini.
After Walton’s death, the late musicologist Christopher Palmer assembled this symphonic suite. There are no orchestral interludes in the opera, so Palmer organised excerpts into a symphonic structure: a tense, tough opening; a light scherzo (utilising the music for the lovers’ go-between Pandarus); a slow movement drawing on the surging love music, and a triumphal finale with a gentle coda. He gave the missing vocal lines to various solo instruments. It all works beautifully.
Palmer supervised a 1990 recording with the LPO under Bryden Thomson (Chandos), which is a grandiose performance in big, cinematic sound. Gražinytė-Tyla, the Music Director of the Birmingham orchestra since 2016, goes for a sleeker approach, emphasising clear, bright colours and snappy rhythms. She is good at pacing the hyper-romantic moments, and the Birmingham strings and woodwinds are in top form.
Her recording is the second in a series of English pieces, preceded last year by a powerful performance of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. They only exist as downloads, but hopefully a CD will be assembled that includes both these recordings. That seems to be DG’s modus operandi at present: they waited six months to release CDs of Dudamel’s Ives Symphonies, and Ades’s Piano Concerto, so I live in hope.
Composer: William Walton
Works: Troilus and Cressida Symphonic Suite
Performers: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Label: DG 4839285