Walton: Facade (HQCD review)

Also, Lecocq:  Mam'zelle Angot. Anatole Fistoulari, Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden. HDTT HQCD152.

Facade was one of the early works of composer William Walton (1902-1983) and one that helped establish his career. Written in 1922 and first performed in 1923, Facade is Walton's musical adaptation of a series of humorous poems by Edith Sitwell, which he first composed for instrumental accompaniment to the poems, then arranged for orchestra alone (in two suites, 1926), and still later used in a pair of short ballets (1929 and 1931). On the present disc, we get the orchestral suites combined. It seems a little ironic that a composer best known today for the old-fashioned romanticism of his marches, symphonies, and choral works should have begun with the reputation of a jokester.

Conductor Anatole Fistoulari presents these eleven musical numbers with wit and sparkle. The items are quite a lot of fun and range from subtle satire to outright burlesque, with plenty of zip and pizzazz to the performances. A set of these items from Louis Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra appeared in the late 1970's and might be Fistoulari's closest competition, yet even those recordings can't match Fistoulari in terms of enthusiasm, verve, exuberance, or audio refinement.

Coupled with Facade is Mam'zelle Angot, another ballet, this one produced in 1943 and based on an 1872 operetta by Alexandre Charles Lecocq (1832-1918). Here, Fistoulari offers a seven-movement suite from the ballet, which, while it doesn't have the bounce or invention of the Walton pieces, is still charming in its own way, with some of the style of Adophe Adam and even Jacques Offenbach. And with Fistoulari's uncommon zest, the music makes for delightful lightweight entertainment.

Recorded by Decca in September of 1957 at Watford Town Hall, London, the sound is crisp and clean and remarkably quiet (thanks to a bit of noise reduction) in this HDTT transfer. You'll recall that the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) do some remarkable work transferring the sound from older, commercially available tapes to compact disc or download. In this instance, they surpass themselves with a transfer burnt to an HQCD in reference-quality audio. The disc displays an excellent high-end range and extension; strong, deep bass; and exemplary midrange transparency. Additionally, one notices a modest degree of orchestra depth and superb transient response, very quick, with sometimes extraordinary impact. Despite the age of the recording, the sonics are extremely good and easily surpass probably ninety percent of what most record companies make today.

About the only quibble one could make about the HDTT disc is the short playing time, about forty-five minutes total. However, this is not the fault of HDTT, who simply transferred the original album to disc. It was a short program to being with, and HDTT try to keep things as close to the original source as possible. Besides, this should not be a concern to the music lover since the performances are so good, nor to the audiophile since the sound is so good. It's a win-win argument all the way around.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa