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Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in B flat (1946) [20:59]
Clarinet Sonata in D (1934) [13:44]
Folk-Tale for Cello and Piano (1918) [8:00]
Clarinet Sonata in E (1901) [9:00]
Romance for Clarinet and Piano (1901) [7:48]
Trio in One Movement for Piano, Violin and Clarinet (1906) [17:12]
Robert Plane (clarinet)
The Gould Trio – Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello) Benjamin Frith (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 21-23 December 2004
NAXOS 8.557698 [76:51]

 

Naxos’s commitment 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.

The recording 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.

Tony Haywood

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