Friday, October 11, 2013

Walton: Sinfonia Concertante

Sacheverell, Edith, and Osbert Sitwell
A piano concerto in all but name, William Walton's delightful Sinfonia Concertante (the first of Walton's four concertos) had its genesis in a ballet written in 1925-26 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet russes, but after the great impresario rejected it, Walton decided to turn the score into something more practical. The result was this three-movement concerto, unveiled in 1928 with each movement bearing a dedication to one of the Sitwell siblings, his friends and patrons - the first to Osbert, the second to Edith, and the third to Sacheverell. (One can hear Sachie's fondness for the music of Scarlatti reflected in "his" movement.) In 1943 Walton revisited the piece, simplifying the piano part, and, as his relationship with the Sitwells had cooled, he removed the dedications; I knew nothing of them until I began researching for this post, and I have enjoyed this work for thirty years! Shortly thereafter, the Sinfonia Concertante received this first recording:

Walton: Sinfonia Concertante (1927, rev. 1943)
Phyllis Sellick, piano
City of Birmingham Orchestra conducted by William Walton
Recorded August 8, 1945

and

Walton: Henry V (film music, 1944) - Two Pieces for Strings
(Death of Falstaff; Touch her soft lips and part)
Philharmonia String Orchestra conducted by William Walton
Recorded October 12, 1945

HMV C 7635 through C 7637, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.28 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.07 MB)

The pieces from "Henry V" used as the filler for this set were recorded as part of a session, 68 years ago tomorrow, that Walton shared with his friend Constant Lambert, whose ballet "Romeo and Juliet" was the first English ballet presented by Diaghilev, and who thus inspired, indirectly, the Sinfonia Concertante. Lambert's contribution to the session produced several short pieces for Columbia, including a Purcell Chaconne.

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