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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Symphony No. 7 (1938/39)
Tintagel (Tone Poem) (1917/19)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
Rec. 21-22 August 2002, Royal Scottish National Concert Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS 8.557145 [56:55]


With this album Lloyd-Jones’ highly acclaimed Bax symphonies cycle (with Bax tone poems), for Naxos, begun in 1995, comes to its conclusion.

Bax’s Seventh Symphony, orchestrated at Morar overlooking the northern Hebridean islands of Rhum, Eigg and Muck, was completed in January 1939. This was in time to fulfil its commission for the New York World Fair where it was premiered in June of that year under Sir Adrian Boult. After, as Lewis Foreman suggests, in his Bax biography, "the devil that had pursued him through the earlier six symphonies had been finally laid to rest in the Epilogue of the Sixth … the Seventh is technically the most secure and at the same time the most relaxed."

Lloyd-Jones paints a bracing, vividly atmospheric picture of wind and waves, of surging sea rollers as the accumulative energy of the first movement is released. This sonic seascape implies bright and breezy conditions for the music is predominantly buoyant and sunny, joyful and playful with a typical Baxian long-breathed lyrical, romantic melody. But Lloyd-Jones also nicely probes the more troubled aspects of the movement, the mysterious and threatening harp arpeggios, and wailings and persistent nagging chatter of the woodwinds, the snarling brass etc. But, at length, the shadows are dispelled by supremely confident and majestic statements of natural grandeur

The slow movement was described by Bax as an "intermezzo and trio" though as Graham Parlett observes in his notes for this album, intermezzos "are normally not as extended and eventful as this one." Lloyd-Jones, in the opening section, suggests a sultry and languorous summer day (I am tempted to think of this section, as Lloyd-Jones reads it, as another seascape looking backwards towards Tintagel with the same sort of sensual undertones). The central Trio follows a more, enigmatic programme. In Legendary Mood as it is marked; the music probably implies a Celtic or Northern legend of romance, heroism and dark monstrous spirits.

The finale is in the form of a Theme and Variations. It opens with a rousing Prelude, heroic and romantic suggesting chivalry. It comes as close to ceremonial music as Bax would venture before his appointment as Master of the King’s Music (a role for which he was not temperamentally best suited) just a little over two years into the future. Having created a sense of occasion, Bax quietens and softens the music to state the theme on cellos and basses which is then taken up by the upper strings, the music still in Elgar’s nobilmente mood. The variations of course cover a variety of moods: wistful and yearning, wild and barbaric, tender etc.; but as Lewis Foreman points out the actual music is varied but little other than in rhythmic accentuation and tempo so the effect is rather that of a passacaglia than a theme and variations proper. Of the seven variations, the last is the Epilogue – this time quite short and in a mood that is "curiously compelling and final". A magical farewell to the world of Bax’s symphonies, this, by Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones has saved Bax’s most popular work, his tone poem, Tintagel until, the last album in the series. Drafted in 1917 but not completed until January 1919 Tintagel bears the dedication ‘For darling Tania with love from Arnold’ (Later when published toned down to the demure "To Miss Harriet Cohen"). It commemorates the idyllic six weeks they had spent together at Tintagel on the north coast of Cornwall. Bax had run away from his wife to be with the much-younger Harriet. The music recalls Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde whose fate was, of course, tied up with Tintagel. It speaks not only of the tumult of the waters crashing upon the rocks below the cliffs on which the ruins of the castle stand, but also the emotional turbulence the two lovers were experiencing.

Lloyd-Jones pays a magical farewell to the world of Bax’s symphonies, with this energetic and atmospheric recording of Bax’s predominantly optimistic final Seventh Symphony coupled with a surging, powerful reading of Bax’s most popular work Tintagel.

Ian Lace

Looking over the Silver Sands from Morar   toward the Isle of Rhum, Inverness-shire.

Photo by A.G. Macleod

Arnold Bax Web site

 

 



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