The word ‘feroce’ appears
in the directive for the first movement
of Bax’s First Symphony. Myer Fredman
does not disappoint – there is something
of a ‘dare’ about the horns’ fate-like
gesture at the opening of the work,
a defiance that runs through this movement.
Fredman secures impassioned playing
from the LPO and paces the movement
supremely well, so that the second subject,
when it comes (three minutes in), acts
as aural balm in its tender, lyrical,
almost sotto voce demeanour.
Rhythms, so important, nay vital, here,
take on towards the end almost the significance
they do in Holst’s ‘Mars’. And look
out for moments of real magic, too (the
flutes at 10’37ff). The second
movement (‘Lento solenne’) is a dark
and powerful elegy, hardly a place of
retreat from the boundless energies
of the surrounding movements (there
are only three in total). The London
Philharmonic’s concentration seems total.
The finale boasts a big-boned introduction
(Allegro maestoso) before the doors
are opened on some glittering Baxian
seem more prevalent in Symphony No.
7, although some glittering moments
bring contrast. The longer paragraphs
carry with them a certain grandeur that
is most affecting, a certain quiet nobility
that inspires some sort of awe. The
Lento (with a Piu mosso section marked,
‘In Legendary Mood’) is rather beautiful,
although perhaps it is a trifle over-long
(it begins to sprawl rather here). The
ending is touchingly tender, though.
The finale begins with
a nod to Britten in its open-air exuberance,
and later features some brass writing
that would not have disgraced Walton’s
Crown Imperial. The close is
certainly grand (although do I detect
a hint of bombast?), and the noble,
long-breathed string melodies are here
even more effective because of Lyrita’s
superb, warm recording. Of course we
are in competition with Chandos’s Bryden
Thomson and Vernon Handley, two conductors
whose qualifications in this repertoire
are fully acknowledged, not to mention
David Lloyd Jones’s Bax recordings for
Naxos. Yet Leppard’s instincts are accurate
and always convincing.
This is a valuable
disc, not least because it puts two
substantive works by Bax side-by-side.
Both performances do the scores justice
and the recording is, as usual from
this source, exemplary.