WALTON conducts his Troilus & Cressida, Partita for Orchestra (1955/59) - PASC286

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WALTON conducts his Troilus & Cressida, Partita for Orchestra (1955/59) - PASC286

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WALTON Scenes from "Troilus and Cressida" (Ambient Stereo)
WALTON Partita for Orchestra (stereo)
Recorded in 1955 and 1959
Total duration: 69:37

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Monica Sinclair,
Richard Lewis,
Philharmonia Orchestra
conductor Sir William Walton

This set contains the following albums:

Walton conducts Schwarzkopf in scenes from his 1955 opera

Excellent XR remastering lifts the veil on this and his 1959 stereo Partita

Both of these recordings benefitted from the development of true high fidelity equipment during the 1950s and are good examples of what could be achieved at the time. It is unfortunate that the earlier recording, Scenes from Troilus and Cressida, was made only in mono, but the Ambient Stereo version of our remastering does at least add some air and space around the performers. In both cases I have been able, in XR remastering, to reduce background noise whilst lifting the veil which hung over the upper treble. In the case of Troilus and Cressida the slightly cramped and restricted lower frequencies have also been greatly improved. 

Andrew Rose

  • WALTON Scenes from "Troilus and Cressida" (Ambient Stereo)
    Troilus Richard Lewis
    Cressida Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
    Evadne Monica Sinclair
    Watchman Geoffrey Walls
    Watchman John Hauxvell
    Watchman Lewis Thomas

    Recorded 18 April - 20 May, 1955, Kingsway Hall, London
    First issued as Columbia 33CX1313

  • WALTON Partita for Orchestra (stereo)
    Recorded 6 & 16 February, 1959
    Kingsway Hall, London
    First issued as Columbia 33CX1679 

    Philharmonia Orchestra

    Sir William Walton conductor

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, April 2011
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Sir William Walton

Total duration: 69:37 
©2011 Pristine Audio.

"...Walton wrote the part of Cressida for Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, who did indeed record extracts from it in 1955. When asked to open with the opera she demurred pleading another engagement, although Neil Tierney, in his biography of Walton, quotes Walter Legge as saying that she disliked singing in English and neither liked the story nor the character of Cressida. Covent Garden suggested the Hungarian soprano, Magda Laszio; Walton agreed that she had the looks but she could not speak any English. She was expected to learn the part parrot-fashion and to sing without a trace of a foreign accent. If you listen to the Schwarzkopf recording you can hear how impossible that was going to be. In the event, her English was so poor that she had to be coached by Susana Walton, who was herself Argentinian! Opposite her Peter Pears played Pandarus. The producer was George Devine and the designer Hugh Casson. It became known that the opera was to be a sumptuous affair, very romantic in style and destined to become very popular.

Sargent proved a problem. He was a rather vain and self-opinionated conductor. He had not conducted an opera at Covent Garden since 1936 - nor anywhere else except for Gilbert and Sullivan. The singers complained that he often left them without support when they were unaccompanied to which he responded that since there was no orchestral part it was not necessary for him to conduct. He constantly questioned Walton's scoring, which did not endear him to the composer and a further difficulty was that Sargent's eyesight was failing but he was too vain to wear spectacles when conducting. Since the score had still not been printed Sargent was working from the rehearsal score which was rather indistinct in parts. He seemed uncertain of the score and even during performance he counted the bars out loud, which was very off-putting for the performers. On one occasion he brought Geraint Evans in a bar too early with an enormous flourish., Evans decided to ignore this and came in at the proper time. Evans notes in his biography that Walton often had to be called into rehearsals to help and he became increasingly disenchanted. (Unbelievably, Sargent was still the conductor at the Covent Garden revival in 1963 even though Walton pleaded with David Webster to find somebody else. Christopher Hassel, the librettist, died from a heart attack whilst running for a train to attend one of the revived performances.)..."

From "This unfortunate opera" by Len Mullenger - http://www.musicweb-international.com/troil1.htm

Fanfare Review

Given the 1945 success of Britten’s Peter Grimes, the BBC commissioned William Walton to write an opera two years later. After various delays, it took Walton six years to compose the opera and he didn’t deliver the score until 1954. In addition to Walton’s meticulousness, contact with the librettist, Christopher Hassell, was via mail between England and the island of Ischia, off the Italian coast, where Walton resided, which did much to slow down the creative process. Eventually, it was decided that an opera on the scale that Walton was writing was more appropriately presented by Covent Garden, rather than the BBC. There were further troubles, which are covered in an article by Len Mullenger, “The Unfortunate Opera,” which can be found on the Internet. Among those problems was the failing eyesight of the conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, whose vanity would not permit him to wear glasses. As a result, he had difficulty deciphering the rehearsal score, occasionally leaving the singers to their own devices. Walton had hoped to have Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sing the role of Cressida but she begged off and was replaced by Magda Laszlo, who had to sing the role in phonetic English.

Although the reviews were not generally hostile, the eventual judgment on Troilus and Cressida was that it was apparently too advanced for the public and too conservative for the critics. After listening to the complete recordings of Lawrence Foster and Richard Hickox, my judgment is that the problem, as in many operas by Richard Strauss, lies in the excess verbiage of the libretto. In 1955 and again in 1963, Walton shortened the opera. After Christopher Hassell’s death, he lopped off some more music. He also lowered the part of Cressida a bit when Janet Baker agreed to sing it.

Lukewarm public reaction is probably the reason that EMI did not record the entire opera back in 1955 but, instead, issued a highlights LP with Richard Lewis (the original Troilus) and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who condescended to record excerpts. If she was worried about her English pronunciation, the recording suggests that her worries were unnecessary. Having heard Lewis drowned out by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Das Lied von der Erde, I wonder about his suitability for the part of Troilus; his voice strikes me as on the light side for so richly scored an opera. Richard Cassilly, of the Foster recording, seems like a better fit (he also sang the American premiere, with Dorothy Kirsten as Cressida). Given the absence of EMI’s CD issue of that LP, it’s good to have a souvenir of the original production. Fans of the opera can hear the original longer version of Cressida’s “How Can I Sleep,” which was a casualty of Walton’s later editing. No doubt Andrew Rose, the producer of the Pristine CD, would have liked to include another brief excerpt, “Is Anyone There?” which was not on the original LP because it was recorded later and included on the EMI CD. It’s still under rights, so it had to be omitted. I might mention that Christopher Palmer arranged an orchestral suite from Troilus, which shares a Chandos CD with Walton’s Second Symphony. If you like juicily orchestrated, decadent late Romanticism, it’s for you (I love it).

Walton wrote his Partita as a showpiece for the Cleveland Orchestra’s 50th anniversary and it has probably proved to be showpiece for everyone who has recorded it, including George Szell, who led the premiere. His brilliant, if humorless, Cleveland Orchestra recording is unavailable, but there is one with the Concertgebouw Orchestra that I have not heard. I have also not heard Walton’s New Zealand recording of the Partita. This one, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, is more moderately paced than Szell’s, but I prefer those of Bryden Thomson and Paul Daniel (my favorite), which have more wit and swing to them without sacrificing the piece’s flashiness. Does Pristine’s Troilus and Partita CD sound better or worse than the EMI reissues of these performances, which I had at hand for comparisons? I really can’t tell. Perhaps if I had thousand-dollar speakers and 21-year-old ears, I’d have a definite opinion. I doubt that the difference, if any, is worth worrying about.

James Miller

This article originally appeared in Issue 35:3 (Jan/Feb 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.