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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Overture, Elegy and Rondo (1927) [23:44]
Sinfonietta (1932) [22:00]
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
Rec. Concert Hall, Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava, 8-12 June, 1987 DDD
Originally issued as Marco Polo 8.223102
NAXOS 8.555109 [45:44]

Sir Arnold Bax was one of those fortunate souls who was born with the two essentials for a successful artistic career: talent and money. Born in a London suburb into a family of considerable wealth, Bax’s mother saw to it that her two sons were well schooled in life’s finer things. Arnold became a noted composer, and his younger brother gained fame as a writer. In the last couple of decades, Bax’s music has seen a bit of a renaissance, at least on discs, if not in the concert hall, and this is recognition that is well deserved.

Orchestral music makes up a considerable portion of Bax’s output, with eighty-four works to his credit in that genre. The two brief pieces presented here are from his middle maturity and have a number of outstanding features. Perhaps the most interesting facet of this music is its wide variety of orchestral color, and the composer’s very adept way of exploiting the many orchestrational possibilities to their fullest and most compelling effect. The Sinfonietta and the Overture, Elegy and Rondo have a considerable dramatic flair about them, to the extent that they are rather reminiscent of classic film music from the likes of a Franz Waxman, a Bernard Herrmann, or a Miklós Rósza.

There is much to be praised about these performances, now more than fifteen years old. Barry Wordsworth coaxes a fine sense of line and rhythmic drive from the Slovak Philharmonic, who at the time of these recordings had not yet tasted the full fruits of a free Eastern Europe. Of especial merit is the tightness of ensemble and rhythmic clarity of the orchestra, and the warm, lush sound of the strings. I would be shirking my duty however, if I failed to point out the consistent tendency of both winds and brass to play not only just a tad under the pitch, but to fail on several key accounts to even play well in tune amongst themselves. It is particularly noticeable after passages involving the winds alone. When the strings come in again, the intonation discrepancies make one cringe.

That quibble aside, these are well-structured performances and the music itself is a delight. Had I have purchased the original Marco Polo full-price issue, I might have felt a bit slighted by the skimpy amount of music on the disc, but at the Naxos price, I can even forgive the brevity. Sound quality is perfectly acceptable, if not of the quality of say, Ray Minshull or John Culshaw. Lewis Foreman’s program notes are informative and interesting without going overboard on the analysis and blow-by-blow description.

This disc is by all means worthy and it is a good thing to see some of Marco Polo’s esoterica turning up under the less pricey Naxos canopy. Recommended with a slight hedge for the intonation issues mentioned above.

see also review by Rob Barnett

Kevin Sutton



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