to English music continues with this typically well-filled
and intelligently programmed disc of Bax chamber music, coupling
familiar and unfamiliar works. Indeed, three of the pieces
are world premiere recordings and add that bit of extra spice
to an already attractive selection of music.
The disc works
in reverse order, as it were, opening with the composer’s
final chamber offering. The very fine Piano Trio in B flat
is full of mature Bax fingerprints, the sort that can
be heard in other works of this period. It’s a generally warm
and lyrical piece, reminiscent in places of Dvořak, whose
chamber music Bax admired. The first movement’s energy, derived
mainly from the persistent Scotch snap rhythm, is countered
with a broad, nostalgic slow movement that these players do
full justice to with lovely phrasing and a passionate central
climax. The quicksilver finale, with its virtuosic piano writing
and dry humour, is cheekily despatched, Ben Frith enjoying
himself all the way.
The mature Clarinet
Sonata of 1934 has proved to be one of Bax’s most enduring
and popular chamber works. Premiered by Frederick Thurston
and Harriet Cohen, there are a number of fine version already
in the catalogue, notably those by Emma Johnson and Michael
Collins. Robert Plane, whose Naxos Finzi disc is one of my
favourites, is well up there with the best and he strikes
a wonderfully natural rapport with Frith. The many subtleties
in the piece are well realized, especially the chromatic,
almost Scriabin-like harmonic meanderings in the second movement.
Plane’s tone is beautifully graded and the whole performance
oozes class and distinction.
Next up is the
surprisingly powerful 8-minute Folk Tale for cello
and piano of 1918, dedicated to Felix Salmond and first performed
by him with the composer at the piano. The cello writing is
masterly and the mood by turns wistful, brooding and elegiac,
all well conveyed in Alice Neary’s supple cello playing.
The three ‘discovered’
works come from Bax’s student days and are certainly delightful
finds, even if none of them are earth shattering. The early
Clarinet Sonata in E from 1901 is now only in a one-movement
form and is solidly constructed is a very Brahmsian mould.
The Romance of the same year never really loses those
same European origins but the later one-movement Clarinet
Trio shows a distinctive voice emerging from the Debussian
haze. Celtic folk elements are discernible but the writing,
especially the muscular piano part, is delightful and the
piece is undoubtedly well worth hearing, especially in such
an elegant and stylish performance as here.
quality is typical Potton Hall, warm, detailed and well balanced
and the liner notes by Lewis Foreman (who else?) very informative,
even if the music is discussed in chronological order of composition,
the opposite of the playing order on the disc. All in all,
a Bax chamber recital to cherish.
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