Symphony No. 5 (1932) 41.09
The Tale the Pine Trees Knew (1931)
Royal Scottish National
rec Glasgow 31 May and for The Tale 31 June
This now makes the fourth disc in the Naxos Bax Symphony cycle. Numbers 1,
2 and 3 have been issued over the last three years. With this event the company
has passed the midway point with only numbers 4, 6 and 7 to come. Of these
the most eagerly awaited is No. 6 which with November Woods, Winter Legends
and the Piano Quintet are his chef d'oeuvres. Naxos have now exhausted their
stock of Bax on tape and will need to return to Glasgow to complete the cycle.
I do hope that the sessions have been programmed.
The Naxos cycle is significant because, when complete, it will be the first
ever (commercial or otherwise) consummated by a single orchestra, single
conductor and single record company. It is typical of Naxos's enterprise
that they should be at the helm and remarkably welcome that the cycle is
on a budget label.
Number 5 with its wintry fantasy, snowy beauty and gaudy tragic-heroics first
won me over to the Bax camp. It remains a personal favourite. I first heard
it in 1972 when the Leppard/LPO Lyrita LP was issued and broadcast on BBC
Radio 3. Lloyd-Jones, who first swam into my field of vision with the Philips
Universo LP of rare Russian music (Original version of Night on the Bare
Mountain and the irresistible Glazunov completion of Borodin Symphony
No. 3), has already shown himself a perceptive Bax interpreter. So he proves
in the Symphony - certainly this is so in the outer movements where he is
less prone to slowing the pace to swelter in the heat of Bax's lyrico-harmonic
tapestry. In the central movement I found him spiritual (which is what is
required) but also too ready to surrender to reflective lassitude. When Bax
is made to lumber the music loses the place. I really liked the Naxos way
with the last movement. It has dynamism, a sense of the wild dance, and the
bell-tones are made to glint with proper splendour. Among the symphonies
this was the last one to rejoice in a typical 'bring the house down' finale.
DL-J makes hay with this. It is only after listening to radio tapes of the
symphony conducted by Harry Newstone and Stanford Robinson that you reaise
that still more impact can be extracted from the belligerently beautiful
pages of this 1930s symphony.
The Tale the Pine Trees Knew is of the same era and atmosphere. Many
sections of the Tale could be slotted in to the Symphony and vice versa.
The Tale is however touched with much more of the lighter or pictorial Bax
(Symphony No. 4); so much so that it is not a complete read-across from the
symphony. Chronologically the work falls between the two symphonies (4 and
5) so it is no surprise to find it touched with the atmosphere of both. It
is mysterious, grimly celebratory and harsh in the manner of Northern Ballads
1 and 2.
The sleeve notes (by Nina Large - a new name in Bax scholarship) are good
but disfigured by two references to Mary Greaves as Bax's friend and
lover. Her name was Mary Gleaves.
The recording is honest and clear-eyed. While Raymond Leppard still has the
edge in terms of consistently successful judgement on pacing this Naxos disc
is very fine indeed and enjoyably continues a great series presenting the
seriously symphonic work of a composer whose combustible imagination remains
a national treasure.
See also review by Ian Lace