In 1929, Sir Thomas Beecham suggested that Walton write a Viola Concerto for Lionel Tertis. However, Tertis rejected the manuscript and composer and violist Paul Hindemith gave the first performance. This new recording with James Ehnes is distinguished, as are the supporting performances by the BBC Symphony under Edward Gardiner. It is a fast performance, which is the way Walton was said to prefer it.
Considering how dismissive some music critics are of the composer (Norman Lebrecht’s savaging comes to mind) the number of recordings of the work is surprising. A quick count gives us 16; including versions by Maxim Vengarov and Yuri Bashmet. It is also impossible to review any new recording without referring to the exhilarating one made by William Primrose in 1946. In praising the Primrose, one commentator opined, “Too many violinists try to play the instrument using violin techniques. Unfortunately, they produce a thin washed out sound. Primrose is a viola player through and through”. I would say the same of Ehnes, his performance is first class.
The Sonata for String Orchestra was composed for The Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1971; it was based on Walton’s A Minor String Quartet. Lastly comes the energetic three movement Partita written for the Cleveland Orchestra in 1958. All are top performances, with good separation between pieces on the CD, necessary between works with similar soundscapes.