By Jonathan Woolf, 2000
In the light of Simax’s recent release devoted to Camilla Wicks – Glazunov and Vaughan Williams included (see review) – it’s appropriate to consider this earlier disc, one that pairs a Concerto of Bjarne Brustad, his Fourth, with Walton’s. They were recorded many years apart – the Brustad in 1968 and the Walton in 1985.
This is the most unusual performance of the Walton I’ve ever heard. It’s not simply a matter of speed, though it must be among the slowest on record, so much as the sense of tragedy that lies behind the playing. Firstly then it’s not unreasonable to consider the question of tempo relationships. The biggest discrepancy lies in the finale, which takes fifteen minutes. Great interpreters of the past – Heifetz, Senofsky and Francescatti, the first two with the composer conducting – agreed on 11:20 to 11:50. More to the point so did the composer. Wicks is also two minutes slower than Heifetz and Senofsky in the first movement and a minute and a half slower in the capricious central movement. The effect of this is to change almost completely the character of the music.
Wicks plays with refinement and control but the first movement transitions can sound excessive. Her silvery, no longer fiery tone, brings a certain aloofness, not the kind of luscious Mediterranean warmth that others seek. What she does find is an incipient vein of tragedy, of loss. The alla napolitana second movement is more Pierrot than devilish attaca. And the deliberate tread of the finale hardly honours the Vivace marking, though it too brings an unsettling sense of grievance and introspection. In all it’s a most diverting, really rather unsettling experience listening to Wicks’s Walton – rather like catching a usually avuncular friend weeping.
The companion work is Brustad’s strenuous, engaging but not overly memorable Fourth Concerto. Wicks was an advocate of Brustad’s music – we have performances on disc to attest to the fact – and as a viola player himself Brustad writes adeptly for the violin. It was actually premiered by Ernst Glaser, another fiddle player that Simax has celebrated, though when Wicks came to perform it she fortunately did so with the same orchestra and orchestra as had done the honours for Glaser, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Herbert Blomstedt. In some of his solo works for violin Brustad fused Bachian precepts with an earthy folkloric sense; here there is plenty of versatile work for the soloist, not least in the first movement cadenza, and in the Shostakovich-like moments of the finale. But the best music resides in the urgently lyrical writing of the Andante, which Wicks plays with especial warmth and total concentration on purity of expression.
This is another diverting release, one that will strongly appeal to Wicks’ many admirers. She recorded neither of these works commercially so the expansion of her discography is only to be welcomed – not least because of her musical association with Brustad and the introspective light she sheds on the Walton.