> Arnold Bax [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Fanfare for the Wedding of Princess Elizabeth (1947) [1.46]
Oliver Twist: Fagin's Romp and Finale (1949) [6.57]
November Woods (1917) [19.32]
Tintagel (1917) [13.32]
Coronation March: 1953 [6.51]
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
National PO/Bernard Herrmann
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
London PO/Adrian Boult
London SO/Malcolm Sargent
rec ADD/DDD
DECCA The British Music Collection 473 080-2 [48.55]


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This is a journey in sound. From the not merely friable but actully spalling 1955 sound of the Boult Tintagel to the digital Philips riches of Marriner's November Woods.

The playing time is short dictated by the slender store of Bax in the Decca-Philips-DG archive.

The Boult Tintagel sounds about as bad as the similar vintage English Dances on the Arnold disc also from the British Music Collection. As a performance it has great virtues far outstripping the cruise-control of his 1972 Lyrita recording. It remains eclipsed by the work's first ever recording the one conducted by Eugene Goossens (78s from the 1920s). Boult is as aggressive as Solti in Elgar and demonstrates irritability and the gusty tetchiness of a floodtide. This is the same Boult we hear in the unmissable Omega CDs of the Sibelius tone poems. Such a pity about the sound quality. The Coronation March sounds so much better than the Boult Tintagel with its clarion trumpets, ripe celesta, bell sound and tingling clarity. As music it is a pale shade of the Bax of the 1920s and 1930s. Sargent however gives it a walloping run for its money, with bags of brag and pomp and is especially good at the Tchaikovskian string cascades of the finale.

While the Boult Tintagel is a superior interpretative article though in fallible audio the Marriner November Woods is a fallible performance in supremely engineered sound. Marriner lets the music spread and meander with fatal indulgence. Boult's Woods on a Lyrita CD (you can still get them from Harold Moores at Great Marlborough Street, London) is the version to go for. Though I am critical of Marriner's approach I confess that after hearing the poem several times I think Marriner handles the gradual descent of the last pages into satiated exhaustion very well indeed.

After the inconsequential fanfare (Bliss was so much better at this sort of thing!) Herrmann gives a vivid performance of the two Oliver Twist episodes. The sound is matchless. It is after all the best of 1970s Decca Phase Four techicolour with wide-stage antiphonal effects. Herrmann makes a much better job of this than of Bliss's Things to Come (from the same LP) which I last heard in the Bliss double in this Decca series. He builds a groaning depth of string sonority for the satiated sunset music of the finale. The upcoming Chandos (BBCPO/Rumon Gamba) recording of the complete film music will have to be exceptional to match this.

This is not an absolutely recommendable Bax collection. Bax collectors will want it because it fills a number of longstanding gaps. Others would be better advised to try before you buy.

Rob Barnett


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