The night’s other obscure treasure was William Walton’s Symphony No. 1, a work the orchestra has performed only once before. An English composer influenced by Sibelius, Walton wrote music that deserves careful and repeated attention, if only because of its complexity.
This can be a tricky work. Yet it was soon clear that we were to experience a masterful, nuanced excursion across Walton’s diverse landscape. The first movement is atmospheric, sometimes resembling some of the better film-noir scores that were to follow in a decade or so (Walton completed the symphony in 1935). The second movement alternates between 3/4 and 5/4 time, with blasts from the timpani and grunts from the basses. Horns and woodwinds get to show off in the Andante, and here they were models of good behavior. And it all comes to a happy, brassy, patriotic ending, Walton being a good Brit.
The concert opened with a big, plush, intense performance of Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture.” Runnicles makes no concessions to period performance style, and his more Romantic approach was evident in the “Triple Concerto” as well. It worked better for the overture than the concerto, if only because, in the overture, there was no necessity for restraint, and this was an appealing, nicely disciplined performance.
Runnicles is fun to watch, and he uses different styles. In the “Egmont,” he conducted with his bare hands, stiff posture, and deliberate gestures, not unlike Michael Tilson Thomas. But for the rest of the evening, he used his baton and more fluid gestures.