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Views And Reviews: Johannesburg Festival Overture

...off came the kid gloves, out of mothballs came the razor-sharp, jaunty-jazz style of his youth, and spilling from his pen came seven sizzling minutes of utterly unbuttoned musical hedonism...

Paul Serotsky introduces us to Walton’s Johannesburg Festival Overture.

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Walton (1902-1983) – Johannesburg Festival Overture

By the time he came to write his Festival Overture, commissioned in celebration of the 70th.anniversary of the founding of the city of Johannesburg (the one in South Africa), Walton was just about ripe for an orchestral “blow-out”. Between 1948 and 1954, he had sweated cobs over his opera Troilus and Cressida. In the last years of this labour he produced, for a certain State Occasion, the March Orb & Sceptre and a Te Deum, both demanding at least some degree of dignity appropriate to a centuries-old tradition.

Not so for the junior “Jo'burg” – off came the kid gloves, out of mothballs came the razor-sharp, jaunty-jazz style of his youth, and spilling from his pen came seven sizzling minutes of utterly unbuttoned musical hedonism.

There are elements of sonata and rondo, but neither form quite fits. The themes come fast and loose: if you stop to wonder about the provenance or function of a “new” one, you'll miss half the action. Not that it matters, because in essence the form is that of a “Twentieth Century Toccata”, an incisive amalgam of polyphony and fugue which twice coalesces into the swirling ostinato of a psychedelic street party. Loosen your collars, and enjoy the carnival.

© Paul Serotsky

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