> Bax Symphony 4 8555343 [TB]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Symphony No. 4
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy
Nympholept

Royal Scottish National Orchestra Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
Rec 25-25 August 2000, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS 8.555343 [64.38]

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The seven symphonies of Sir Arnold Bax can be counted among the most important orchestral compositions by a British composer of the 20th century. Each has its own particular personality, but each is also true to the principles and artistic vision of the composer.

Other issues in the continuing series of recordings from David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos have been received with acclaim, to the extent of being award winners, so this new issue must be taken very seriously indeed. And the experience of listening justifies all this enthusiasm.

Composed around 1930 for a large orchestra including six horns and organ, the Fourth can lay serious claim to being Bax's orchestral masterpiece. It has never been performed as frequently as the Third, perhaps because of the need for the organ, but the previous recording by Bryden Thomson and the Ulster Orchestra, well recorded by Chandos nearly twenty years ago (CHAN8312) showed the standard of imagination and symphonic strength Bax had achieved.

Lloyd-Jones conducts a performance which seems 'leaner and fitter' than Thomson's, and so complements it admirably. One feels the symphonic momentum is placed as a higher priority, less so the indulgence in splendour of sound. The orchestral playing from Scotland is of the highest order, both in ensemble and individual contributions.

As so often in a large-scale symphony, it is the slow movement which is the heart of the work. Bax preferred to compose his symphonies in three large movements, and this Lento moderato is surely one of the best he ever created. The recording comes up well, as when the bass drum adds its subtle yet expressively powerful contribution. The dynamic may be restrained but the presence is everything.

On the other hand, the Allegro finale has a spontaneity and vitality which move the music into new regions, and the symphonic argument justifies the sweeping power of the final bars. All told, a fine symphony well performed.

Composed the same year as the Symphony No. 4, the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy is a slighter piece, of course, but it is most entertaining and serves its purpose as a lively opening item. For contrast the programme is completed by a rarity which shows one of the extremes of Bax's range. Nympholept was originally an early piano piece, composed before the First World War, which was later orchestrated in full romantic indulgence. Bax never heard it performed in this version, and he would surely have enjoyed the splendid sound generated by the Scottish orchestra and Naxos.

Terry Barfoot

 


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