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Walton Viola Concerto - Yoni Avi Battat - BWO

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Published on May 1, 2012

April 29, 2012 - 8:00 PM
Houghton Chapel, Wellesley College

William Walton - Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
I. Andante Comodo 0:25
II. Vivo, con molto preciso 8:33
III. Allegro Moderato 13:38

Yoni Avi Battat, Viola
Neal Hampton, Conductor
Brandeis Wellesley Orchestra

Program Notes (by Yoni Battat)
Sir William Walton's viola concerto is recognized as one of the first representative pieces of his unique compositional style, blending romantic lyricism with dark, often jazzy harmonies and rhythmic intrigue. The piece was written and premiered in 1929, when Walton was in his late twenties. Violist Lionel Tetris was originally approached about premiering the work, but he rejected this request, stating that he didn't like the piece. Ultimately, famed composer and violist Paul Hindemith gave the premiere, which was uniquely appropriate because of his influence of the composition. Tetris did, in fact, end up performing the concerto, admitting his love for the piece and regretting his initial close-mindedness.

Though Walton's compositional maturity and unique voice are clearly heard in this work, many aspects of the music were clearly inspired by the work of some of his contemporaries including Sergei Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No. 1) and Paul Hindemith (Kammermusik No. 5). Although Walton himself was not a string player, this piece shows his deep understanding of the viola's unique voice, using the concerto as a canvas to demonstrate the most sultry, effusive, reserved and percussive qualities of the under-appreciated instrument.

The first movement of the concerto is a close rendering of sonata form with a modern twist. The simultaneous imposition of major and minor thirds heard at the start of the movement will serve as a central harmonic motive throughout the entire piece. The sound world is dense and solemn, singing and timeless, racing and savage. The music moves through moments of utter despair to moments of authority and power. The hushed ending leaves the tension between major and minor harmonies unresolved and the mood unsettled.

The second movement of the concerto is a driving scherzo marked "Vivo, con molto preciso." This movement serves as a quick respite from the depth, turmoil, and conflict of the outer movements. In contrast to the major/minor thirds featured in the first movement, here the interval of the perfect fourth predominates. This movement offers the soloist a chance to demonstrate his virtuosity with dizzying runs, ear-piercing harmonics, off-kilter accentuations and mixed meters. There are moments of franticness, grandeur, and comic playfulness.

The third movement, like the first, can be classified as a manifestation of sonata form. The bassoon presents the first theme, which the soloist then imitates. This music is poised, march-like, and insistent. The prevailing interval used here is the perfect fifth, an expansion from thirds in the first movement and fourths in the second movement. During an extensive coda, the solo viola enters with a melancholic, reminiscent rendering of the main theme from the first movement, amalgamating it with the opening theme of the last movement, and bringing the piece full-circle. This manifestation of the opening music is fatigued and spent, as if exhausted from the journey of the piece. The conflict in the music is left unresolved, with the ending chords of the piece laced with simultaneous major and minor harmonies and tinged with a feeling of loneliness.

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