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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in E major (1910-15) [32.32]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)

Violin Sonata No. 2 (1915) [13.07]
Henry Holst (violin)
Frank Merrick (piano)
rec. 1960s
CONCERT ARTIST CACD 9002 [45.39]


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This is a historic recording of the Bax and Delius works. Why historic? Because when made in the 1960s neither work was commonplace on radio or in the concert hall. Rare birds indeed. In the intervening four decades things have changed substantially. We now have McCabe and Gruenberg on Chandos and Mei Wu Loc on ASV. Of these two the Chandos still sounds strangely synthetic and airless - a curse also visited on those early Chandos CDs of the first three symphonies. The two ASV discs are the ones to get. The present CD has the same clamant virtues as the Handley-revived 1960s recordings of the Symphony No. 4 and Symphonic Variations. These show how Bax rose from dust and disdain through the enterprise of small labels and passionate well-informed performer-advocates able to communicate the Bax message with an evangelist's zeal.

The Bax First Sonata is a large work across three movements. Its attributes are Celtic and Russian ... not completely synthesised. Bax's own special solution came after the First Symphony. This does not however stop the writing in this sonata from being vibrant and often poetic. Bax was always a potent imaginer of melody overpowering when coupled with the impulsive and tumultuous playing of Henry Holst (who in the 1940s gave the UK premiere of the Walton Violin Concerto). Holst's tone is feverish, a shade nasal and fully alive to the restless nature of this music. The sonata also offers an idyllic cradling as in the lovingly calculated pacing of the start of the third movement. The sonata fades most magically in the hands of these artists into a sleepy heat-haze. Merrick and Holst were to record the other two Bax violin sonatas and various of the short pieces for violin and piano but these were for Frank Merrick Society LPs. The masters of those recordings are presumably lost - more's the pity.

The Second Delius Sonata is one of four. This belongs to 1915 and is typically rhapsodic and, less typically, full-blooded. It can be thought of as, in some measure, like the Howells’ First Sonata, the Goossens’ First and the Second Sonatas of Thomas Dunhill and John Ireland - all broadly contemporary. Much the same can be said of the unusual Violin Sonata by the Swedish composer Moses Pergament. Holst and Merrick are at their least fluent in the melodic continuum that is the Delius Second Sonata than in the volatile romanticism of the Bax work.

The detailed notes are by Peter J. Pirie advocate extraordinaire of Bax and Bridge and much maligned for his provocatively opinionated Gollancz book on the 'British Musical Renaissance' (1979).

The Revolution, Fidelio and Concert Artist catalogues were the home of many British works. I remember fondly the LPs of the Bliss and Bax Viola Sonatas (Herbert Downes/Leonard Cassini Delta 12028 and Revolution RCB1), the Ireland First Violin Sonata and Cello Sonata, not to mention another of the Elgar Piano Quintet with a short piece for viola and piano by Bax (Summit LSU3058). Perhaps these too will surface? If they do and come under the expert remastering accorded here we are assured of hiss-free listening and a secure and vibrant sound. There was a boxiness to the acoustics of these recordings which is not entirely eliminated by the technical wizardry applied. My only real quibble with this CD is its playing time. Such a pity one of the other Revolution LPs could not have been 'cannibalised' perhaps so as to include the Watson Forbes/Leonard Cassini version of the Bax Viola Sonata and the Legend, also for viola and piano.

Rob Barnett

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