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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Orchestral Works - Volume 9
The Truth About The Russian Dancers – incidental music (1920)
From Dusk Till Dawn – ballet (1917) [20:25]
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London, 5-6 March 1990.
This reissue is available
on CD (as CHAN10457X) and as a download and has been reviewed
as the latter.
a very recent convert to downloading, I chose the latter,
for £6.00 and
in lossless format for £8.00. Having been critical of the
quality of downloads, many of them offered at 192kbps or
less, I decided to try the mp3 version at 320kbps and was
most pleasantly surprised; Chandos now joins Gimell – also
offering mp3s at 320kbps – on my approved list.
The music under review
may not be the most essential Bax, but it is very attractive. Bax
novices, however, would be better advised to try some of
the symphonies and tone poems, either on Chandos or more
economically on Naxos. Chandos CHAN10156X, offering The
Garden of Fand, Tintagel and other works, would
be a good place to start: like the present recording, this
is available on CD, in mp3 format for £6.00 and as a lossless
download for £8.00.
The Truth about the Russian
Dancers arose from the ashes of Bax’s frustrated ambition to earn
a commission from Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes with,
he hoped, his beloved Tamara Karsavina dancing in it. When
the projected ballet King Kojata, or Tamara,
fell through, the playwright J M Barrie came to Bax’s rescue
with a play entitled The Truth about the Russian Dancers,
showing how they love, how they are made, how they die
and live happily ever after, with music commissioned
from Bax and based in part on music rescued from the projected Tamara ballet. The
music was well received at the time but disappeared below
the horizon along with the Barrie play. Several short
suites were extracted in the 1960s and broadcast by the
BBC, but it was only with this Chandos recording that the
music resurfaced in 1990.
The plot of the play is
somewhat thin – boy meets girl, boy marries girl, a son is
born, the mother dies. The music is undeniably episodic,
as incidental music perforce must be, but this revival is
well worth hearing. There are 21 sections in all, some of
them extremely short (track 6 lasts for a mere 18 seconds,
track 7 for 28 seconds). Chandos cue them all separately,
thereby creating a problem with the download, to which I
shall refer later.
From Dusk till Dawn was commissioned
by Mrs Christopher Lowther, later Lady Cholmondeley, in 1917
and produced in December that year with Mrs Lowther dancing
the title role. As with the Russian Dancers, some
of the music was rescued from the Diaghilev fiasco; it also
disappeared from view – in this case, between two concert
performances in 1918 and its revival at the Petworth Festival
in 1982. It, too, is very episodic – track 32 a mere 9 seconds – but
attractive music. Both works are frequently reminiscent
of better-known Bax and display the rich sound-palette of
those more familiar pieces.
With Bryden Thomson in
control, the performances are first-rate. The LPO in 1990
may not have been one of the world’s greatest orchestras,
but their playing here is excellent.
The attractive front cover
and the complete booklet, with its very informative notes,
are available for free download – even by those who don’t
buy the music.
I had no grumbles about
the mp3 recording: 320kbps is audibly better than Radio 3’s
192kbps and twice Classic FM’s bit-rate of 160; though Chandos
carefully remind would-be purchasers that even 320kbps is
not CD standard, I could find no fault with what I heard. If
your ears are particularly discriminating, go for the lossless
version, but be aware that this will eat up rather more of
any monthly limit your provider may impose. Slightly confusingly,
this recording is also still listed on Chandos’s website
for mp3 and lossless download under the original catalogue
Chandos recommend checking
the tracks of each work so that the music downloads and plays
consecutively, but I found that my initial download contained
brief ‘dropouts’ between tracks, a problem exacerbated by
Windows Media Player’s habit of adding a 1-second pause when
it encounters such brief hiatuses. I contacted Chandos about
this problem and received a prompt and helpful email, explaining
that whenever this problem was noted and reported to them,
they would add the facility to download the entire programme. Returning
to my order history, which Chandos generously make available
even after the initial download, I found that this was indeed
the case and downloaded the entire programme, thereby obviating
the problem. Make sure you use a Download Manager for this,
or you may encounter problems with such a large file.
My own preference is to
burn the music onto a CDR – where else would you store the
booklet when printed out? – but many will be happy to leave
the music on the PC and listen through headphones or stream
wirelessly to an audio system.
Whichever format you choose,
if you are already a Bax convert, you will enjoy this new
reissue. Since I spent my own money on the download, you
can be doubly sure of my recommendation.
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