Arnold Bax: First Recordings
First recordings 1925-1949
Review by Richard
I regret not being able to welcome this disc more warmly as it is
a very important issue containing a number of revelatory
performances that have not been available commercially since the
days of 78s. If only
a little more effort had been made to clean up these recordings
then this would have been a release of extraordinary importance
but as it is I feel compelled to warn those who might be
interested to hear the treasures contained within to proceed with
a little caution.
some of the performances on this disc can be found on other discs
in preferable masterings. Sir
Hamilton Harty’s sparkling (and still definitive) 1935 recording
of Overture to a Picaresque Comedy with the London
Philharmonic appears on an all Harty disc available from Dutton
Labs that also contains music by Berlioz, Sibelius, Smetana,
Schubert and Handel. The
Oliver Twist and Malta G.C. excerpts appear in a
series of ‘British Film Music’ discs available from Pearl
(Vols. 1 and 2 respectfully).
masterings are a good deal cleaner and have
all been transferred at the correct pitch.
The Symposium transfers of “The Pickpocketing”, “The
Chase” and “Fagin’s Romp” from Oliver Twist are a
Everything else on this disc is appearing on compact disc for the
first time and while some of the selections are mere curiosities
such as the Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion from 1932 and
the Fanfares for the Wedding of T.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and
The Duke of Edinburgh from 1947, the other items are all
landmark recordings that tell us a great deal about how Bax’s
music was played by those who knew the composer well.
Symposium is to be congratulated for resurrecting these
recordings and we have also to thank The Sir Arnold Bax Estate,
Lewis Foreman, Stephen Lloyd, Graham Parlett and Warwick Round for
providing their private 78 recordings for this collection.
the back cover, Symposium proclaims that it used an “Authentic
Transfer Process” in the mastering of these performances.
I take that to mean that these recordings were transferred
raw from the original source with almost no editing or cleaning
other than to splice the side changes together (and that has not
been very well done) because that is how it sounds. There may have
been some removal of loud clicks and pops as the recordings are
relatively free of those but there is so much 78 surface noise in
all these recordings that the music is at times drowned out all
instance, it is almost impossible to assess Albert Coates’ 1925
recording of Mater ora Filium (other than to say it is
extremely slow) because the surface noise is so loud.
Goossens’ magnificent 1928 recordings of Tintagel
are only a little clearer, I’m afraid.
The 1947 recording of Morning Song, with Harriet
Cohen at the piano and Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting a pick-up
orchestra, is certainly better recorded and a little easier to
decipher but still there is an annoying swish that is constant and
it certainly hampered my enjoyment of this charming work.
a slightly more positive note, I commend Symposium for using the
best sounding recording of Bax’s 1949 BBC talk that I’ve ever
heard. I understand
the source for this may have been the BBC itself but evidently
about a minute of the talk was missing so Symposium had to use a
very noisy private copy to fill in the gap and that results in a
quite jarring listening experience.
Surely, Symposium could have cleaned this minute or so of
tape to make it match a little better with the pristine sounding
quibbling, I know, but a little intervention here would have
helped a lot.
course, those with audio editing software such as Adobe Audition
(formerly Cool Edit) and Sonic Solutions will have no problems
taking the raw product that this disc provides and with a little
judicious use of filtering, hiss reduction and equalizer, will be
able to remove much of the unwanted noise to reveal the music
underneath but those without that software or knowledge of how to
use it will need to satisfy themselves with what is on offer here
and I warn that will require a good deal more tolerance and
patience than I have. Still,
I do recommend this disc to Baxians with an interest in historic
performances as you will find Goossens’ performances of Tintagel
revelatory (no other conductor has made as
much of that beguiling miniature).
I hope that Michael Dutton may someday try his hand at
mastering the Goossens recordings
for no doubt he could improve on the work that has been done here.
And based on these riveting performances, Goossens is a
conductor whose recordings deserve to be revived and presented
using the best technology possible.
If you have it, why not use it?