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Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
First Recordings 1925-49

Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion [00.49]
Kneller Hall Musicians/Capt H.E. Adkins - rec. 17 June 1932
Mater Ora Filium (1922) [11.30]
Leeds Festival Choir/Albert Coates - rec. 29 Oct 1925
Tintagel (1917-1919) [11.59]
New Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens - rec. 17 May 1928
Mediterranean (1921) [3.07]
New Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens - rec. 23 May 1928
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1934) [8.57]
orch/Hamilton Harty - rec. 18 Apr 1935
Morning Song - Maytime in Sussex (1947) [8.22]
Harriet Cohen (piano); orch/Malcolm Sargent - rec. 7 Feb 1947
Oliver Twist: Theme [7.40]; Pickpocketing [00.57]; Chase [1.33]; Fagin's Romp [1.48]; Finale (1948) [4.04]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Muir Mathieson - rec. 1 Sept 1948
Malta GC: Quiet Interlude [1.56]; Gay March (1942) [1.24]
London Symphony Orchestra/Muir Mathieson - rec. 1944?
Fanfares for the Royal Wedding of T.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh (1952) [00.56+1.33]
Trumpeters Royal Military School of Music/Capt M Roberts - rec. 4 Dec 1947
Talk by Arnold Bax (1949) [10.05]
rec. 6 June 1949 BBC

This is assuredly an evocative and gap-filling selection of Bax recordings, a number of which will probably be unfamiliar to, or unheard by, even admirers of the composer. They range from the sliver of a Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion, one of a number of fanfares commissioned from British composers for the Musicians Benevolent Fund and recorded in 1932, to the film music and Tintagel. Mater ora filium for example is not the better-known and later BBC/Leslie Woodgate recording, which formed part of a famous Columbia album set including the Viola Sonata and Nonet. This rather is an early electric October 1925 record with the Leeds Festival Choir and was the first major Bax work to be recorded. The Choir was a big one, 250 strong, and the microphone placement isn’t always sufficient to bring the greatest clarity to the sound but it’s impressive to hear the depth of tone they produce and Albert Coates’ sweeping direction.

Perhaps the most sheerly impressive performances come from Eugene Goossens. He’d conducted at the famous 1922 concert sponsored by Murdoch & Murdoch at Queen’s Hall where Lionel Tertis, Harriet Cohen and John Coates had all performed. This Tintagel is treated to a disarmingly fast and quiveringly intense and evocative performance and one that makes most others sound flabby. The 1928 sound is no real impediment and the New Symphony Orchestra plays with fire and expressive nuance. Goossens’ sense of linear drama and surging power brings out the eruptive passion so much more viscerally than conductors of our own time and it’s the kind of performance all Baxians should try to hear. The same goes for the more sultry invitations of Mediterranean, which as annotator Lewis Foreman rightly observes has a "beguiling lilt."

Another Bax champion was Hamilton Harty whose 1935 recording of the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy brings out its nascent Straussisms – as well as some splendid portamenti in its luscious central section. Symposium’s documentation notes the band simply as an "orchestra" and Harty certainly did record for Columbia a number of generic or pick up bands or established ones flying under that flag – but wasn’t this Beecham’s LPO? Harriet Cohen is represented by the pretty Morning Song; May Time in Sussex and the piano theme for Oliver, the former with Sargent in 1947, and the latter with Muir Mathieson the following year complete with rippling figuration. Bax’s film music is excellently performed here though there are only two cuts from Malta G.C. We began with Fanfares and by a process of Baxian symmetry we almost end with them – this time those for the wedding of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth, its depth spiced by the composer utilising a passage from Spring Fire. To finish we have the June 1949 talk that Bax gave and which preserves his speaking voice – it’s well enough known in Bax circles and beyond but splendid to have it in the context of these first recordings.

The sleeve notes by Lewis Foreman are characteristically eloquent and the transfers have used good quality originals. All inquisitive Bax admirers should acquire.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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