Talented British pianist
Ashley Wass caused quite a critical
stir with the first volume of his Bax
series for Naxos. The generously filled
second volume does not disappoint. Superbly
recorded in Potton Hall by Michael Ponder,
the sound-stage is large yet immensely
clear - due also to Wass's expert ear
The Third Sonata of
1926 comes between Bax's Second and
Third Symphonies, from a time when Bax's
creativity was at peak. Indeed there
is an imaginative exuberance present
that is most compelling. The work moves
from vague amorphous grumblings through
varied harmonic explorations to an almost
Scriabinesque finale. Bax has a real
ear for the feeling of arrival that
can be conjured up by judiciously-prepared
consonances. The slow movement of the
three is spare and almost desolate;
there remains hope here. Wass builds
to a good climax at around the six-minute
mark. He also keeps his tone true in
the upper treble register. The sense
of peace at the very end of the work
is magnificently realised.
The Fourth Sonata dates
from some six years later. Textures,
perhaps under the influence of Neo-Classicism
- as Lewis Foreman suggests in his notes
- are cleaner and leaner. Indeed, right
from the jaunty opening there is energy
in abundance, an energy that seems positively
sprite-like in nature. Wass realises
that this energetic underpinning is
the key to the movement, and ensures
that the slower-moving passages never
The slow movement of
the Fourth Sonata (marked 'Very delicate
throughout') is sometimes separately
programmed, and with justification.
Wass lightens his tone, appropriately,
to an almost paper-like thinness, to
give the finale its full weight. Taking
a 'large' approach, this is big-boned
stuff and all praise to the strength
of Wass's fingers. More importantly,
this pianist sculpts the work well.
Water Music is as balm after
the strains of the Fourth Sonata - it
is actually a transcription from a ballet
score. Winter Waters - which
carries the subtitle, 'Tragic Landscape'
- has a late-Lisztian darkness to it.
This is evident in its obsessive passages
and in the way that the music is drawn
to the lower registers.
The final two works
wind the listener down progressively.
The innocently-named Country-Tune
is indeed sweet but nevertheless carries
undercurrents, while the wonderfully-titled
O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies
is even sweeter and more care-free.
A worthy successor
to Volume One.
with Ashley Wass
Parlett’s review of Vol. 1