Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Bax: Variations on the name GABRIEL FAURE
Serenade for string Orchestra
Works for Strings by Dodgson, Arnell and Norman Del Mar
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7244
review by Richard R. Adams
very little left of Baxís catalogue to be recorded and what is left
are mostly alternative or original versions of well known works or
juvenilia that Bax never intended to be performed, let alone
Despite that, Dutton has
managed to provide us with two major Bax premieres that should
appeal to more than just the Bax completists.
Adding to this discís
fascination is the inclusion of three nicely contracted works by
three major English musicians who may not be well known outside
British music circles but
music is of more than just passing interest.
The one thing
each of these works has in common is that they were all written for
Itís almost impossible
think of a major British composer from the first half of the 20th
Century who didnít write at least one major work for string
Elgar led the way with his
masterly Introduction and Allegro and Serenade for Strings and the
tradition continued with classics by Vaughan Williams and Holst as
well as Britten and Tippett.
Bax is one of the few of his
generation who didnít compose a major work for string orchestra
until very late in his life when he arranged his Variations on the
FAURE, originally written
for solo piano, for harp with string orchestral accompaniment.
According to Lewis Foremanís
typically informative liner note, we still donít know what inspired
Bax to write the original piano suite based on Faureís name in 1945
but Foreman assumes it was written for Harriet Cohen although she
never performed the work publically during Baxís lifetime and the
full piano suite has had only one recording by
(Opes 3D 8008).
odd then that Bax would decide to make his arrangement of this suite
for harp and strings in 1949 as it doesnít appear to have been for a
Foreman says Boyd Neel later
asked Bax about the piece and was sent the score by the composer but
it remained unperformed until 31 January 1961 when Neel conducted a
performance for broadcast.
The work bears a dedication
to Neel in Harriet Cohenís hand.
Variations is made up of six short movements and those who only know
Bax for his tempestuous and darkly-scored orchestral music will be
surprised by how light his touch is in each of these charming
Itís good to remember that
Bax frequently showed a softer and more fanciful side to his music
personality in much of his solo piano music and in the Faure
Variations, he seems to be mimicking (or paying homage) to a style
that is French in that the textures are very transparent and the
scoring in the orchestrated version very subtle and restrained.
Itís surprising this work in
either of its forms has had to wait so long for a recording as itís
so obviously pleasing and I believe would go down very well in a
I hope more harpists
discover this work through this recording and add it to their
It may not be a lost
masterpiece but itís a memorable score that is wonderfully performed
the strings of the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Martin Yates.
Sadly, the name of the
harpist is not included in the CD booklet.
As pleasing as
the Faure Variations obviously are, it is the Symphonic Serenade by
Bax that is this discís major discovery.
Here we have a magnificent
new work for strings composed by Bax presumably around 1911 when Bax
was experiencing his first full rush of mature creative inspiration.
I say presumably because
very little is actually known about this score other than it
originates from an eight-page piano draft that was found among Baxís
manuscripts at the time of his death.
That this score is now
available for us to hear is thanks entirely to Graham Parlett, who
both completed and brilliantly arranged the score for string
According to his notes,
there were only a few tempo and dynamic markings ďand no indication
of the intended orchestration, though the layout of the notes
suggested that it would be suitable for string orchestra.Ē
Parlett says the last
eighteen bars have sparser textures than elsewhere, ďas if Bax were
starting to lose interest (or maybe he realized that the music was
sounding rather Elgarian) and here it was necessary to add a little
more harmony and counterpoint. ď
As Bax left the score
incomplete, it was necessary for Parlett to round the movement off
by writing a fast 22-bar coda based on earlier material in the
Parlett has given the work
the title Symphonic Serenade as the manuscript title, Symphonietta
Finale, is a little too close in name to Baxís later Sinfonietta and
he wanted to avoid any confusion between the two works.
to imagine Bax intended this work for anything than a string
orchestra as Parlettís realization is so totally convincing.
His skills as an
orchestrator and arranger of several Bax scores is well known but
here he really surpasses himself.
The model for Bax and
Parlett does indeed seem to be Elgarís Introduction and Allegro and
the Bax has a comparable vitality and brilliance to that great work
although the musical ideas may not be quite the equal of Elgarís but
they are very good nevertheless.
In fact, the second theme
sounds a little like something Gerald Finzi might have composed at a
Certainly, it sounds very
English Ė much more so than most of Baxís music from this period.
I canít imagine why he
decided not to complete it but Iím certainly grateful Graham Parlett
has and I hope the fact that it is a completion doesnít prevent it
from entering the repertoire.
It certainly deserves its
place alongside those other great English string works I mentioned
before and weíre fortunate that its first recording is so
Yates and his RLPO crew
sound inspired and excited by their discovery and I suspect many
listeners will feel the same way also after they hear it.
The rest of
the program is made up of three fascinating string works by slightly
more contemporary composers than Bax.
My own preference is for the
Essay No. 7 by Stephen Dodgson, which might not sound too promising
from the title but is actually a very powerful exercise in moody
string sonorities that ends very calmly and through its 16 minute
duration easily sustains interest, or at least it did mine.
Dodgson wrote nine
orchestral essays and after hearing No. 7, Iím quite eager to hear
Heís a composer Iíll be
investigating more thanks to this splendid new recording.
Arnellís Classical Variations in C for Strings, Op. 1 is an early
work composed in New York in the late 1930s.
The writing itself sounds
very accomplished but quite often the influence of Hindemith seemed
too apparent and it was hard for me to recognize any real distinct
voice at work although we know Arnell created one later on.
Nevertheless, itís finely
crafted piece that I suspect will appeal more on repeated hearings.
I was really
eager to hear Norman Del Marís Allegro Concertane for horn and
string orchestra as Iím such a fan of his conducting but admittedly
this strikes me as
a rather minor effort
and indicates why he may
have pursued a conducting career as I couldnít hear anything in this
would warrant repeated hearings.
The writing for the horn is
obviously skilled as Del Mar was a horn player himself but the
musical material certainly didnít engage me at all.
That said, it was still
interesting to hear what Del Mar was doing at this early point in
his career and I would still like to hear more of his music
especially from a later point in his life.
performances by the RLPO and BBC Concert (in the Del Mar) sound
totally convincing and Yates a sympathetic interpreter.
This is one of those discs
that really rewards exploration and I hope it is successful as it
sheds new light on several little known composers and gives us our
first chance to hear two significant and very entertaining works by
one of the greatest of all British composers.