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Classical

George Walker

Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5

The Smith-Amherst Orchestra, Edwin London

[Albany Records]

Three stars

I love Albany Records’ varied and unexpected projects. George Walker won a Pulitzer prize for music composition. At the same time, his fine reputation as a concert pianist began with a recital in 1945 at New York’s Town Hall, and shortly after that, he played Rachmaninoff’s Third with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

This Beethoven recording dates from 1967. The student orchestra, aside from a few rough spots, is professional level, and Walker’s own playing is straightforward and sensitive. There are pivotal points that he finesses extraordinarily well, and other parts where he takes an interesting individual approach. His playing is confident and dramatic. Above and beyond all that, the recording is fun for its grassroots quality. Right when the last movement is about to begin and no one is breathing, someone drops something, and there’s some scrambling. At another point, you hear a thumping in time to the music – is that Walker stamping his foot?

There also is an admirable sense of purpose. No one lets anyone’s mistakes, his own or anyone else’s, wreck his concentration. Piano fans will enjoy this vivid rarity. Walker’s own sonata is an acquired taste, too abstract for me. He is joined by his son Gregory Walker on violin.

– Mary Kunz Goldman