Bax M station -----> Classical Music Reviews


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Arnold Bax 1 Overture to a Picaresque Comedy 9'09" 2 Nympholet 16'02" Symphony no 4 in E flat 3 Allegro moderato 16'08" 4 Lento moderato 12'53" 5 Allegro 10'26" Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow; 24-25 August 2000 Naxos 8.555343 TPT 64'38" The Royal Scottish National Orchestra Conducted by David Lloyd-Jones Given that England is famously the "Land without Music", English Symphonists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries really produced some remarkable results. It is regrettable that only those of Elgar and Vaughan Williams have ever become well known. The five symphonies of Hubert Parry are as good as anything by Elgar, and poor old Bax doesn't even rate a mention in most history books and is only known today for his impressionistic overture "Tintagel." This is a tragic situation because the symphonic element of Bax's output shows him to be far more than a mere impressionistic colourist. The 4th Symphony was completed in 1931 and premiered in San Francisco. Conceived in three ample movements and scored for a large orchestra of triple woodwind, six horns, three trumpets and trombones, tenor and bass tubas, percussion, harp, celeste, organ and strings it makes a dramatic impact from the very opening. Bax, who was obsessed with Ireland and spent long periods in the remote western coastal regions of that country, took the sea as his inspiration in this work. The swirling sense of movement that this idea gives underpins much of the opening movement. In this excellent recording, David Lloyd-Jones controls the large forces of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with grace and precision. The strings have a warmth that is not a customary feature of the Scottish Orchestra and the powerful playing of the thickly scored woodwinds gives richness to the climaxes and warmth to the meditative sections. The long-drawn out melody of the E major slow movement is introduced by the woodwind and is performed with a sure sense of the lilt and swell of the underlying power of a quiet sea. This contrasts markedly with the swirling abandon that characterises much of the finale and brings the symphony to a magnificently rousing conclusion. The other works on this disc include the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy dating from 1930 and closely related in creation to the 4th symphony. It is a colourful showpiece for large orchestra and again the RSNO displays its virtuoso abilities with ease. More impressive as a work is the extensive tone poem "Nympholept". This originated as a poem for piano in 1912 and Bax orchestrated it in 1915, dedicating it to another talented English musician of the era, Constant Lambert. A evocation of "frenzied rapture" (as indicated by the title, which is an English version of the Greek word meaning `caught by nymphs') this work draws immediate comparison with MallarmE, or Debussy's `L'aprEes-midi d'un faune.' Also employing a large orchestra, this work shows Bax's decidedly confident handling of these forces. The work displays the lush string writing of the symphony and builds beyond it to a rhapsodic climax over a large time scale. Remarkably, the Nympholept was not given any performance until 1961, eight years after Bax's death. The performance recorded here is assured and the recording of all three works on this disc is excellent. For less than a fiver this sort of recording represents the ultimate in value; the performances are first rate, the recording excellent, the accompanying booklet notes are well-written and informative and, most importantly, this disc offers a chance to hear little known music of the first rank. In this it must rate as a `discovery'. (c) 2002. Peter Wells
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