This product is listed in» Orchestral
Walton & Barber: Violin ConcertosJoseph Swensen
Malmö Opera Orchestra
Walton’s Violin Concerto was composed during a stay at the stunning Villa Cimbrone on Italy's Amalfi coast, and reflects this environment in different ways – some more apparent than others (the 2nd movement is based on a ‘tarantella’, after Walton suffered a tarantula bite whilst there). The piece has endured as one of his most popular works, and is contrasted here by Barber’s Violin Concerto and famous Adagio for Strings.
Making his debut recording as a soloist on Signum, Thomas Bowes has built a firm reputation as an orchestral leader, soloist and chamber musician. He has also concert-mastered many film scores – the most recent credit being for "The King's Speech". The Malmö Opera Orchestra and conductor Joseph Swensen join him for this recording.
What people are saying
"a masterly account … with Bowes essaying flickering rhapsodic moments, assailed by striking orchestral flourishes" The Independent
"Bowes yields to none of the Walton's great interpreters – Heifetz (the dedicatee), Menuhin, Franccscatti, Chung, Kennedy – in his dazzling passage work … with his gorgeous portamento and rubato." The Times
"What is so remarkable about Bowes as a soloist is not just his technical assurance, his flawless intonation over the widest range, tonal and dynamic, but his natural feeling for warmly romantic expressiveness … Altogether a resounding success" Gramophone
Thomas Bowes, violin
Release date: 25th Apr 2011
Order code: SIGCD238
|1.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: I. Andante tranquillo||William Walton||11.06|
|2.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: II. Presto capriccioso alla napolitana - Trio (Canzonetta)||William Walton||6.21|
|3.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: III. Vivace||William Walton||13.09|
|4.||Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V: Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff||William Walton||3.08|
|5.||Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V: Touch Her Soft Lips and Part||William Walton||1.28|
|6.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op. 14: I. Allegro||Samuel Barber||9.44|
|7.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op. 14: II. Andante||Samuel Barber||8.27|
|8.||Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op. 14: III. Presto in moto perpetuo||Samuel Barber||3.45|
|9.||Adagio for Strings op. 11||Samuel Barber||8.52|
This very fine disc is strongly recommended. The coupling of these contemporaneous violin concertos is particularly apposite and musically intelligent, for both will surely appeal to the same music lover, inhabiting – as they do – a memorable combination of lyrical and dramatic originality, so cleverly and expressively laid out for the solo instrument (which neither composer played) and splendidly orchestrated.
These works are genuine virtuoso concertos, of course, and if the Barber has taken longer to enter the repertoire (Heifetz's championship of the Walton ensured the best possible launch of this masterly work) both can now be appreciated for their individual qualities. In the case of the Walton, that rather 'Mediterranean' aspect in his music, which came to dominate his expression after the Second World War, entered his large scale works for the first time in this Concerto. In the case of the Barber, the composer's highly original structural innovations (beginning immediately with soloist and orchestra together – such a difficult procedure plus the long-delayed entry of the soloist in the second movement and the never-ending Presto in modo perpetuo finale) have tended to be overshadowed by Barber's relatively familiar broadly late-Romantic language. In the subtle rhythmic interplay (particularly in the second movements of these works) the composers display their similarity of thought, well brought out in these performances.
Nonetheless, these works pose considerable technical and musical problems for the soloist (and conductor!), which arc supremely surmounted in these performances. Perhaps one reason is that the conductor Joseph Swensen is himself an excellent violinist and can bring just that extra degree of finesse to the partnership, such as we hear in earlier recordings of the Walton (with Goossens) and Barber (with Ormandy), both conductors in those instances being violinists of exceptional attainment in their earlier careers.
The soloist Thomas Bowes is so impressive here. His phrasing is a constant joy, so subtle is his perception – especially in the Walton – of the meanings behind each phrase, without going so far as to emphasize too much the importance of the bars in question. This is very impressive and deeply musical playing, and he is helped by really splendid orchestral playing and a recording which balances him to perfection with the orchestra in a natural acoustic. The disc begins with the Walton Concerto, and before three pages had passed I sensed that I was in for a good performance – and so it proved. Perhaps the Walton remains the greater work: its composer's essential character is more clearly and individually delineated and its emotional content is rather deeper, but the Barber is an adorable composition, even if the language is more readily grasped. Swensen is particularly successful in not emphasizing the quotation from the Sibelius Concerto in the finale of the Walton, subtly blending it within the texture; the difficulties of ensemble in the finale of the Barber are rendered non-existent in this account.
These outstanding performances are accompanied by a group of well-known shorter pieces for strings by both composers – Walton's Henry V miniatures and Barber's immortal Adagio: these are also very finely played by the string section of a first-rate orchestra, and Swensen's tempos are ideal. The booklet notes by Adam Chambers are also first-class, and, as I said at the beginning, this recording is a highly desirable release which I recommend without reservation.
International Record Review, Robert Matthew-Walker
English violinist Thomas Bowes has been a member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and was the first leader of the Maggini Quartet. Since the early 1990s he has forged a solo career. This is his concerto recording debut.
Walton’s glorious Violin Concerto was composed during a stay near Amalfi, and has about it a quite unmistakable Mediterranean atmosphere whilst remaining resolutely English. Kyung Wha Chung’s performance with Previn was issued on Decca in the 1970s, and though I’ve heard many performances since then, none has quite measured up to it. The word often applied to the tone she adopts in the opening melody was “smokey”, and overall it is a performance that, whilst not neglecting the dramatic elements of the work, is marvellously adept at evoking the warmth and languor that are so essential to it. This performance from Thomas Bowes is stronger on drama than on languor, a characteristic already apparent in the opening melody – emphatically a smoke-free zone – where the soloist is keen to push on at the ends of phrases. The same quality can be noted at around 3’20”, where most other violinists pull back to luxuriate, and indeed there are many examples throughout the performance. The waltz-like passage in the second movement is not very seductive, and although the first horn acquits himself very well, the Trio section rather lacks charm. The second subject of the finale is a crucial moment. The composer’s markings indicate that he wants the music to be kept moving, but he adds the word “flessible” – I can think of no other score in which I have seen this word. I wish Bowes had been more flessible here, as the music really cries out for it, and even in the accompanied cadenza one wants him to relax, to be freer with pulse and rhythm. The orchestra plays well, but some of the tutti passages feel rather literal, and though the opening of the finale is of a piece with the rest of the reading, it really isn’t pianissimo. The recording is very fine, but some will find the soloist a little close, his figuration, admittedly marked forte, covering the pianissimo woodwinds march theme in a way I feel the composer could not have intended.
Barber’s Violin Concerto is also a most beautiful work, but a strange one indeed. The first two movements are highly lyrical, a constant stream of melody in each case, but the work closes with a whirlwind finale, less than half the length of either of the other two movements and seemingly part of another work altogether. I was discouraged to note the same shortage of rhythmic freedom in Bowes’ playing of the gorgeous opening melody, but things improved thereafter and I found this performance much more appealing and satisfying than that of the Walton. There is a delicious freshness about the way the wind-led second theme is presented, and the dramatic central section is superbly executed by both soloist and orchestra. The slow movement’s opening melody is beautifully taken here by the principal oboe, and Bowes saves one of his finest moments for the return of this theme at around 4’40”, presented here with gloriously rich tone and superb poise. The finale is very convincing, though the fiendish passagework sounds cleaner – perhaps inevitably – from both Joshua Bell (Decca) and Gil Shaham (DG).
The disc is filled out with music for strings. The two short pieces from Walton’s music for the film Henry V are nicely done, especially the sombre Passacaglia. Barber’s Adagio seems an unimaginative choice, but given, as here, at a flowing tempo, it comes over as cooler and less overwrought than it often can, and none the worse for that in my view.
Musicweb International, William Hedley
Thomas Bowes, best known as an orchestral leader and founder member of the Maggini Quartet, shows his mettle as a formidable virtuoso in these deeply felt readings of two violin concertos that share much. The added string pieces complete what might be regarded as an ideal coupling.
What is so remarkable about Bowes as a soloist is not just his technical assurance, his flawless intonation over the widest range, tonal and dynamic, but his natural feeling for warmly romantic expressiveness. The Walton concerto, written for Heifetz in 1938-9, emerges more than ever as the most romantic of his works, gloriously melodic yet with a bite of intensity in the characteristically jazzy passages, here beautifully played not just by Bowes but by the Malmo orchestra, credited with working for the Opera but clearly related to the ensemble that has made distinguished recordings for BIS.
Joseph Swensen also shows his natural sympathy for the Walton idiom, both in the lyrical and jazzily syncopated writing. His slinky rubato in the A/la Napolitana section of the second movement Scherzo is a delight, and his expressiveness exactly matches that of his soloist. It is a measure of the richness of Walton's invention that the luscious theme, which arrives as the second subject in the finale, is hardly referred to again and is replaced in the recapitulation with the opening theme of the whole work, this time in parallel sixths – a favourite device of Walton.
I suspect that the richness of lyricism in this work, even compared with others of the 1930s, reflects Walton's happiness in setting up home with his beloved Alice, Lady Wimborne, whose husband seems to have minded not at all that his wife had a young and brilliant lover. Walton told me more than once that his music regularly reflected his love-affairs.
Bowes is equally warm and expressive in the Barber, and there, interestingly, he takes note of the "Allegro" marking in the first movement, when most violinists luxuriate in a relaxed tempo. Bowes in no way sounds rushed, yet keeps the music moving. Barber's central movement, unlike Walton's Scherzo, is a genuine slow movement, with the soloist entering only after the oboe has introduced the movement's main theme, which is finally given to the soloist much later- rather reflecting the procedure in the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Concerto.
Notoriously, the soloist for whom the work was originally commissioned found the dazzling moto perpetuo finale too difficult to play and the first performance in Philadelphia was given instead by the veteran Albert Spalding. Needless to say, Bowes has no trouble coping with the fierceness of the writing, and rounds off his performance with a delightfully pointed pay-off.
As for the string pieces which come as valuable supplements, Swensen's readings could not be more refined. Walton's two little Henry V pieces come at a sustained, intense pianissimo throughout, while Barber's celebrated Adagio is similarly hushed and intense until the great climax and pause after six minutes, so intensifying the elegiac quality. The Signum sound is excellent with good balance between soloist and orchestra with ample detail and a bloom on the sound that helps to co-ordinate the most complex textures without muddying the result. Altogether a resounding success, making one hope for more recordings from the same source.
Gramophone, Edward Greenfield
This is another of those discs that I find hard to review. In its own right this captures fine idiomatic and technically secure performances in good if not great sound. Violinist Thomas Bowes is not a name known widely on the international circuit but on the evidence of this disc his playing is the match of many more celebrated players - indeed in the Walton he is much more secure than one of my favourite players Aaron Rosand. But the rub is, does this disc merit purchasing before any of the other versions of either or both concertos? By that highest of all criteria I would have to say no. But for the moment I would rather dwell on the positives. Conductor Joseph Swensen is a fine violinist in his own right and from the liner-note it is clear that he and Bowes are friends as well as musical colleagues. This ensures that there is a real mutual rapport and understanding between fiddle and stick that means the many ensemble/sectional minefields in the Walton in particular are negotiated with ease. Likewise the Malmö Opera Orchestra - although perhaps a little light in numbers in the strings - are agile and alert accompanists. Add fine production and engineering from Tony Harrison and Mike Hatch and the omens are good.
The Walton Violin Concerto is one of this great composer’s finest works. His detractors will tell you that apart from a burst of extraordinary creative energy in the decade or so from the debut of Façade in 1922 his career was a long slow decline into a late romantic nostalgia. They might even go further and cite this concerto as the first work to exhibit this ‘malaise’. I would argue quite differently - and avoiding the epithet ‘bitter-sweet’ which dogs descriptions of Walton’s music - that in his mature works he found a balance between the nervous energy of the earlier works and the vein of lyricism that is central to all of Walton’s best work. If one did want to characterize it it should be as the first of his ‘Mediterranean’ works written mainly as it was at Ravello near Amalfi. Add waspish humour and a capricious sexiness and it can be seen that there is a complex and elusive personality to this music that is hard for both performers and listeners to comprehend. Given that it was commissioned by Jascha Heifetz adds a layer of technical complexity too that daunts all but the finest and bravest players. My main observation with Bowes’ performance is that he is very strong on the technical aspect and indeed quite forceful throughout but along the way loses the nonchalant slyness the music really needs. The very opening is the key to the success of any performance; the violin part is marked sognando which I would interpret as dreaming rather than dreamily. Following the score I had forgotten just the level of detail that Walton has applied to the solo line with changes to dynamics and phrasing in almost every bar. To be honest Bowes rather generalizes these which as I say underplays the skittish quality. Coming back to this concerto I was reminded of just what a fine work it is so I particularly enjoyed digging out other older versions. As mentioned before Aaron Rosand rather disappointed sounding simply too effortful although James Judd and his Florida orchestra have full measure of Walton’s orchestral writing. Nigel Kennedy on EMI with Previn and the RPO are very good - the bigger orchestra giving the work an opulence that is not an option here and Kennedy reminding one what a fine player he is technically and musically. I’m not sure any conductor quite finds the balance between the syncopating rhythms and the lyrical in Walton as well as Previn. Kyung Wha Chung is also accompanied by Previn this time with the LSO on Decca but doesn’t quite win me over in the charm stakes. Ida Haendel with Berglund and his Bournemouth orchestra are simply magnificent right down to a glorious EMI (again) analogue recording. Lydia Mordkovich with Jan Latham-Koenig as part of the Chandos Walton edition is good and interestingly coupled but lacking the multi-faceted nature of the music. I like rather more the bargain Naxos version from Dong-Suk Kang coupled with the Cello Concerto. This is a very sensible coupling and as with much of that series of discs from Naxos benefits from Paul Daniels’ conducting which shows a real feel for the Waltonian idiom. Menuhin with Walton again on EMI has historical value but cannot compete on a purely technical level. But that leaves me with one other recording which sadly deals the knock-out blow for me and the feisty Bowes. It is the 2006 version from James Ehnes and Bramwell Tovey on Onyx. Good though Bowes is Ehnes is exceptional, his ability to sail through passages of ferocious difficulty is little short of staggering. None of the above players - Haendel is pretty remarkable though - on a technical level alone play this piece as accurately as Ehnes. But then he transcends mere accuracy and brings to the music a flippancy and easy wit that is just so very right. And the killer blow for Bowes is that Ehnes couples this with the same Barber concerto and throws in a wonderful Korngold Concerto for good measure. Lastly the Onyx engineering gives all the players a more natural perspective and Tovey’s Vancouver orchestra is every bit the match of the Swedish team here.
In many ways the Barber is a simpler more linear and less quixotic work - although written a couple of years after the Walton it is more overtly backward looking emotionally. Again it has received many fine performances but Bowes need fear few of them. Overall - for all of the impressive technical address of the Walton - I prefer Bowes in the Barber. Curiously the orchestra are slightly less compelling here. This is due again to the number of players so the weight of string tone is generated more by close miking than force of numbers. If forced to choose I would turn to Gil Shaham’s glorious account on DG which also coupled the Korngold. Interestingly I saw Shaham play the Walton in London last year and he is an ideal exponent of that work which I do not think he has recorded.
The bringing together of these two like-minded concertos makes for a very satisfying disc and no-one buying this disc alone would be anything but pleased with their purchase. The couplings slightly annoy me because they smack too readily of ‘session fillers’- easy for the orchestra to slap down in the last few minutes of available time. To be fair the performances of these string works are perfectly good but not the reason anyone will be buying the disc. And compared to Ehnes’ Korngold there is no competition on interest grounds even before one makes qualitative judgments. Liner notes in English only are provided by Bowes and Adam Chambers. Passing mention is made of use of David Lloyd-Jones’ ‘new edition’ of the Walton concerto without mentioning what this actually means for the listener which I find a little frustrating. I feel rather guilty guiding potential buyers away from a disc of so many virtues but it is the musical equivalent of coming second to Usain Bolt in the 100 metres final - no disgrace but not the winner either.
Musicweb International, Nick Barnard
The violin concertos by William Walton and Samuel Barber are almost exactly contemporary – the Walton received its first performance in 1939, two years before the Barber – and they share not only a fundamentally tonal neo-romantic musical language, but also a prevailing mood of nostalgic wistfulness. These works are already well represented on CD, but Thomas Bowes's performances, recorded with the solo violin placed well forward in the sound picture, make a strong case for themselves, especially his account of the Barber, which captures perfectly the first movement's rhapsodic musings. Both composers are also represented in the pieces that top up the disc: Passacaglia on the Death of Falstaff, and Touch Her Soft Lips and Part, both from Walton's Henry V film score, as well as, inevitably, the string-orchestra arrangement of Barber's Adagio.
The Guardian, Andrew Clements
Given his reputation – he’s led the LSO, RPO, Philharmonia and London Sinfonietta, among other orchestras – it’s surprising that Thomas Bowes should only now be making his first recording as a soloist, and perhaps more surprising that he should choose a programme of Walton and Barer. Having spent three weeks studying Walton’s Violin Concerto at the composer’s home on Ischia, he delivers a masterly account of it, in the company of the Malmö Opera Orchestra. The second movement is especially dramatic, with Bowes essaying flickering rhapsodic moments, assailed by striking orchestral flourishes.
The Violin Concerto by William Walton is England’s other great violin concerto. In the shadow of the great Concerto by Edward Elgar, Walton’s violin gem has struggled and succeeded into the mainstream repertoire helped in no small way by the championing of Heifetz, who commissioned the work in 1936.
From Heifetz’ superb later recording of the work with the composer conducting the Philharmonia, the Walton Concerto has been well served on LP and CD. My favourite for many years was the Harmonia Mundi CD with Aaron Rosand and Florida Phil with Jimmy Judd conducting. A fabulous recording of a non superstar violinist and provincial US orchestra, both on top form. We get the same here, with English violinist Thomas Bowes and a provincial Swedish opera orchestra.
Bowes begins the Walton Concerto as dreamy and as passionate as any, and the musical lines are served beautifully by his gorgeous tone. Intonation is true throughout and his technique is exceptional. Walton received 300 pounds from Heifetz for the commission and was much in love with Alice Wimborne at the time of composition. Composing the work was difficult for Walton but the lyricism and elegiac style hints at the passion in his life. Bowes captures the intense, arching melodies with ease and phrases them exquisitely. For a change of mood, the very fast final two movements test the technique of both violinist and orchestra. So, what a surprise it was to hear the very fine Malmo Opera Orchestra eat up the speed and tricky rhythmic changes with aplomb. Violinist, now conductor, Joseph Swensen accompanies respectfully. Ensemble is fine throughout the recording and Swensen gets to shine even more brightly in very good readings of Walton’s music from Henry V and Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio.
The Bowes brilliance continues in an equally knockout reading of Barber’s beautiful Violin Concerto (1939). This concerto had a much more bumpy ride to main street due to the meddling of various influential musicians and benefactors. Yet, its wonderful musicality and charm have seen it through the mediocrity of initial criticism into the mainstream repertoire. Once again, Bowes sings the melodies with a ravishing tone and a brilliant technique and the Malmo orchestra accompanies with great style and character.
An easy recommendation for this coupling. Superb performances by Bowes, Swensen and his fine orchestra in wonderful sound.
Bowes is hardly a household name, but these exceptional accounts of WaIton's and Barber's near-contemporaneous Violin Concertos – the Englishman's premiered in 1939, the American's two years later – should increase his stock value. They complement each other well, Walton's brilliant idiom supplying enough bite and menace in the fast movements to contrast with Barber's lush melodic vein and orchestration. Bowes yields to none of the Walton's great interpreters – Heifetz (the dedicatee), Menuhin, Franccscatti, Chung, Kennedy – in his dazzling passage work, and he brings a deliciously laid-back italianita to the canzonetta of the middle movement with his gorgeous portamento and rubato.
The Times, Hugh Canning