"This (is) an invaluable historical document -- and unmissable viewing."
-International Record Review June 2002
29 March 2002 marked the centenary of the birth of one of Britain's foremost 20th century composers -- Sir William Walton. Decca have already commemorated this centenary with the issue of a special 4-CD edition of the composer's greatest works, featuring the recent digital recordings from Andrew Litton and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Complementing this CD issue is the first release on DVD of the celebrated 1981 film on Walton and his music from the veteran film director Tony Palmer. Apart from containing the only significant interview footage with Walton ever recorded on camera, the film is also notable in featuring extensive performance footage from the young Simon Rattle (conducting extracts from the First Symphony and Belshazzar's Feast), as well as Yehudi Menuhin performing a substantial extract from the composer's great Viola Concerto.
As an introduction to this fascinating film, the following summary of Tony Palmer's personal note (printed in full in the DVD booklet) gives the essential flavour of this famous 100-minute documentary:
"This film was first broadcast as a South Bank Show on Easter Sunday 1981 and remains, as it was then, the only substantial film documentary on Walton. When originally shown, the film had some modest success, winning, among many other things, the Italia Prize.
I had been taken to meet Walton at his house on Ischia in the Bay of Naples. Walton was almost eighty, and not quite in the best of health. He was, however, delightful, impish and anxious to please. But as we got up to leave, he remarked "Death. That's what I'm looking forward to". The conversation began again, although in a much more sombre tone. I began to have the feeling that Walton considered much of his life's work to have been a waste of time, that much of what he'd done had been a failure, that the end result of all his -- but only, he said, to other people -- immense achievements was a black hole, a nothingness from which there was no escape.
I then began to listen much more carefully to the music itself, and came to understand that this profound pessimism about the human condition had been in his music from the beginning. In the end, that's what my film is about -- what we feel as human beings "at the haunted end of the day".
I'm grateful -- no, that's the wrong word; I have no word to describe what I went through when the great man came to London to see the finished film. There were many tears; he said that he couldn't quite understand why there was so much fuss. "My boy", he told me, "I've written far too much music. Do you really want to include so much?" There could never be too much, William, but for what there is, we are forever in your debt. And I hope this film goes a little way to repaying the debt."
Includes performances by :-
Oxford -- Drop, Drop, Slow Tears
London & the Sitwells -- Façade
London -- Portsmouth Point
Crown Imperial -- War Years
First Symphony -- Marriage
Ischia -- Bagatelle No.3
Henry V -- Laurence Olivier
Troilus and Cressida
Later Years -- Cello Concerto