Itís good to see
the enthusiasm these days for Baxís Viola sonata Ė in fact itís
good to see Naxos getting to grips with Baxís chamber music
with such avidity. The historic yardstick was always the Primrose-Cohen
78, now featuring in several CD incarnations, not least because
the composerís own performance with Lionel Tertis was not issued
at the time and only surfaced on a Pearl LP. Itís to be heard
now both on Pearl and Biddulph CDs.
This is all well
and good but of course performers today are not necessarily
beholden to the past, or to past performance practice. But itís
interesting to contrast such as Martin Outram and Julian Rolton
with another fine pairing, the American-Canadian team of Doris
Lederer and Jane Coop on Centaur CRC2660. Both Lederer and Outram
are violists in well-established quartets. Outram plays in the
Maggini, current masters of the British quartet muse, whilst
Lederer was part of the unfortunately fractious Audobon. Lederer
and Coop play with lean control and eloquence though their tempi
and affiliations are reminiscent of the Primrose-Cohen approach.
Outram and Rolton have clearly heard the Tertis-Bax recording.
Their tempi are brisk, though not as brisk as the volcanic composer
and his equally inspired string colleague. Nevertheless the
tempi are fast enough to startle; most pairings prefer a more
equable and elastic approach. I donít, so I am entirely sympathetic
to the new recording. Shaving two minutes off the Lederer-Coop
first movement Ė just that one movement alone Ė makes a huge
difference to the work, allowing the folkloric elements to burn
brightly and with heart stopping intimacy.
So does depth of
vibrato usage and colour. Outramís tone is deeper, the vibrato
wider than most of his competitors. Even so fine a pairing as
Michael Ponder and John Alley on ENS123 must cede here and elsewhere.
Whilst it would be good to have a transfer of the Forbes/Cassini
account they donít quite command the full colouristic spectrum
as Outram and Rolton do, partly perhaps a recording phenomenon,
as Forbes was of course an outstanding player. In terms of tone,
balance, evocative projection of the slow finale, and technical
security at speed this new release has a great deal to commend
it. I wish more pairings would dare to take Bax at face value
and drive through this sonata. I reject those criticisms that
Bax sounds slipshod in his recording and that he and Tertis
fail to explore the sonata with sufficient care - not so.
The Concert Piece
has its share of folk elements. Itís very early Bax, written
in 1904 for the composer and Tertis once more. I suspect that
that violist would have swept through the lyric nostalgia
with rather greater trenchancy but it seems only slightly overlong
in this expert performance. In the Legend Outram and Rolton
face competition in the shape of Colletti and Howard on Helios
CDH 55085, an all-British viola disc. I thoroughly approve of
the faster tempo adopted by the Naxos pairing though it must
be conceded that Coletti phrases with glorious elegance. His
vibrato is faster than Outramís as well which imparts a greater
frisson to his playing.
The Trio sees the
duo joined by Laurence Jackson, also of the Maggini, who is
recording the Bax violin sonatas for Naxos. Though it sits high
for the viola, corporate sonority is maintained by these experienced
players. Cast in one movement and written in 1906 it sports
an open-air feel but isnít yet distinctively Baxian.† The rhapsodic
style encourages some affectionate playing; flirtations with
DvořŠk can be felt here and there as well as with the salon.
The best part is the Prestissimo finale, which swings with tremendous
Iíd place the Outram-Rolton
sonata recording high for its virility and refusal to engage
spurious metrical displacements. The Trio is a youthful work
but enjoyable and you must have the Legend in your Bax chamber
arsenal in whatever recording. As a single disc viola selection
you couldnít do much better than this.