The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Lawrence Power (viola) BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov (conductor)
Composer: Walton, Rubbra

Lady Walton once related that following a performance of her husband’s Viola Concerto given by Lionel Tertis in Worcester, Walton happened upon Elgar – never a fan of the younger composer’s music at the best of times – in the gents’ cloakrooms. Elgar muttered that Walton had ‘murdered the poor unfortunate instrument’, and seemed much more interested in hearing about the latest racing results.

If this new recording sounds slightly different from the standard performances in places this is because Lawrence Power has opted for Walton’s original 1928–9 scoring which, although meticulously balanced with a Mendelssohnian deftness of touch, the composer revisited in 1961, reducing the woodwind from triple to double, removing a trumpet and tuba part, and most significantly adding a harp to play a number of rippling figurations originally assigned to the strings and woodwind.

Even bearing in mind fine versions by such distinguished violinist–violists as Kennedy, Menuhin and Vengerov, Lawrence Power is just that extra bit special, investing the work’s tantalising vein of underlying nostalgia with an eloquence that perhaps only a true viola player can bring. This is particularly noticeable in the scintillating acrobatics of the central Scherzo, which is not only brilliantly dispatched (by both soloist and orchestra) but also avoids any sense of the instrument being merely an alto violin.

Power seems, if anything, even more attuned to Rubbra’s espressivo cool, illuminating the Concerto’s neo-Romantic gestures with finely judged and restrained intensity. Yet it is the hypnotic concentration of the solo Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn that lingers longest in the memory here, enhanced by luxurious, velvet-toned engineering.