See also earlier reviews by Richard Adams and
Ian Lace (use back button
Naxos's Bax series ploughs forward with forthright energy and resolve. If
it is completed (and I understand that although a number of symphonies, including
the next to come no. 3, are 'in the can' numbers 4, 6 and 7 have yet to be
taped) this will be the first ever cycle by one conductor and one orchestra.
That it will have been completed on a bargain label is a credit to Mr Heymann
and his vision.
Bax has long been one of my favourite composers. I rate him very highly indeed
and place the present symphony and no. 6 well above many other British symphonies
reckoned to be masterworks.
November Woods here receives a punctilious performance but misses the errantly
intoxicating fantasy that marks out Boult's recording on Lyrita. It is however
no mean performance and never has Bax's delicate strength breathed with such
vivid audio impact.
The Symphony is a different matter as an interpretation and although I still
marginally (and it is only a slight preference) lean towards Myer Fredman's
Lyrita recording (still not transferred from LP to CD!) the present recording
and performance is clear rosette material.
The Chandos recording of No. 2 suffers from an oppressive ambient warmth
that dulls detail and softens impact. Bryden Thomson's LPO performance also
falls victim to the dream rather than the forward pulse far too often.
The symphony was written during the silly 1920s but its richly romantic approach
is far more in tune with the 1930s. It is a luxurious work contrasting with
the Russian austerities of the stark first symphony. The great arching love-song
spins and beats out over a Celtic ambience notable for its ferocity rather
than its feyness - no Immortal Hour here! Boiling fanfares and eruptive
climaxes are given with full power. The second movement seems sometimes to
have stepped from the pages of D'Indy or Florent Schmitt. This is a song
of erotic longing that points towards the music of the original dedicatee
of Bax Sixth symphony - Karol Szymanowski. Only in the third movement is
there a slight feeling that a degree more snap and vim would have made the
performance unmatchable by anyone.
Recommended to all listeners who appreciate compellingly empowered symphonies
with memorable melodies and shattering impact.