Rarely appearing together on disc, William Walton's two symphonies are separated by some 25 years. The First Symphony was composed after his dazzling early success, beginning with Façade and culminating in two scores written before Walton reached the age of thirty: the Viola Concerto and the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast. After this, composition became more difficult, and progress on the symphony was tortuous and protracted. Nevertheless, the work has a strikingly positive tone - perhaps in celebration of the victory over the many demons and difficulties that had attended its creation. Twenty-two years later, in 1957, the musical world was a very different place, but Walton's response was not to seek solace in reflective nostalgia. It is rather as if he conceived the Second Symphony as a follow-up to his terse and bubbly Partita for orchestra, building on the confidence that the success of that score had given the always self-doubting composer. Owain Arwel Hughes, who conducts the present recording, first made his name with an electrifying televised performance of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast which received a notable accolade from the composer. During his distinguished career Hughes has recorded a number of discs for BIS, including a complete cycles of the 13 symphonies of Vagn Holmboe. In the French magazine Répertoire his 3-disc series of Rachmaninov's symphonies was described as 'the great modern Rachmaninov cycle', while the reviewer in International Record Review stated that 'Hughes is the first conductor to convince me that the First Symphony is on a par with its two successors.' On this recording he brings Walton across the English Channel and conducts one of the leading French orchestras, Orchestre national de Lille, for their first appearance on the BIS label.
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