Façades is a new CD of music by William Walton and Constant Lambert; much of it comparatively unknown. It’s a mix of songs for tenor and piano and music for piano duet. The disk begins with Lambert’s Trois pièces négres for two pianos. The bookends are fairly up tempo jazz inflected numbers with a perhaps Poulenc influenced slow middle section. Curiously only the white notes of the pianos are used. It’s the first touch of what I tend to feel about Lambert’s music; clever, well crafted but, in the last analysis, not very interesting.
Perhaps the most interesting music on the disk is eight settings for tenor and piano of poems by Li Po; composed between 1927 and 1930 and the only songs Lambert wrote. These really do seem to exemplify why Lambert rather faded into obscurity; at least by contrast with his contemporaries (more or less) Britten and Walton. The Li Po settings break away from the strophic form of 19th century German Lied or early 20th century English art song like the Butterworth Housman settings or Vaughan Williams treatment of Stevenson. The piano part is now used more independently of the vocal line but it’s all very langourous and entirely tonal. There’s certainly nothing of “the savage intellectuality of the Central European School” or even the kind of drive and attack found in Britten’s Blake and Donne settings. It’s as if Lambert can see the future of art song but can’t bring himself to go there.
The Walton contribution is made up of Siesta for piano duet and a couple of pastiche Elizabethan songs written for films. None of it is very exciting but they do seem more “modern” than the Lambert pieces. The disk is rounded out by two suites of music from Walton’s Façade arranged for two pianos by Lambert. They are perfectly competent, quite difficult and, no doubt as the liner notes claim, “great fun to play”. Whether you find them great fun to listen to will likely depend on how you feel about Façade; especially without the Sitwell text.
The performances are all rather good. Tenor James Greer with Donald Woodley at the piano tackle the songs. Woodley teams up with Andrew West for the piano pieces.
The recording was made at Potton Hall, Suffolk in August and September of 2019 and it’s well done. The booklet contains full texts as well as quite informative notes and bios.