Bax-Naxos chamber music series continues apace. Having recently
reviewed the viola music – including the Sonata, Legend,
Concert-Piece and the Trio for violin, viola and piano (see
review) – we
now turn to the first volume of the violin sonatas. Both
Jackson, who recorded the Trio, and Wass, who’s recorded
the sonatas, are by now Bax regulars. Potton Hall is an established
recording base for Naxos and one familiar to both men.
Various pairings have tackled the First Sonata. In recent
years Gruenberg and McCabe have recorded it on Chandos and
the Robert Gibbs-Mary Mei-Loc Wu partnership have
done so similarly for
ASV. Back in 1965 Henry Holst and Frank Merrick recorded
it, as they did the second and third. It’s been recently
released on Concert Artist where the First is coupled with
Delius’s Second Sonata (see review).
The Third Sonata has had a much less productive time. Holst
and Merrick recorded it but after them no one until Gibbs
and Mary Mei-Loc Wu did so. Historically minded collectors
will know that a fragmentary 1936 BBC performance given by
May Harrison and Charles Lynch has survived and can be found
on Symposium 1075. Collectors only though as there are damaging
The new recordings naturally suffer no such indignity. The
balance between instruments is fine and the recording location
acoustic has been acutely judged. These are fine conditions
in which to perform and record. Though it opens with a strangely
Delian theme the Jackson-Wass duo catch the First Sonata’s
turbulent drama with a fine ear for the lyricism and strangeness.
Wass underscores the piano’s curious otherness from 6:00
in the first movement, bringing out a full complement of
emotion. Jackson plays with well-calibrated intelligence.
He doesn’t possess the big tone of Gruenberg or the astringent
one of Holst; he’s rather more like Robert Gibbs in that
respect, but he colours his tonal reserves with vivid imagination.
Together the two stretch out the reflective lyricism that
ends the first movement but without ever breaching structural
bounds. And how well they obey the instructions in the poco
più lento of the second movement, which is despatched
with real feeling. The finale has the requisite serenity
at 5:20 and also enough of the folkloric – Ukrainian flecks
the last movement as much as Irish does earlier.
There’s a significant bonus of the original second and third
movements, discarded by Bax. The slow movement is highly
expressive. Lewis Foreman suspects a Baxian feint when the
composer condemned it to May Harrison as “juvenile” – it
certainly isn’t that but the rather hobbly dance enshrined
within is more than a touch unconvincing. The discarded Allegro
is best in the tolling bass of the piano in its slow section.
This acts as a galvanising call to arms and anticipates some
real fireworks, not least from the hard-pressed pianist.
These are both world premiere recordings and need to be on
the shelves of all Baxians.
The Third Sonata hasn’t fared so well as the companion sonata.
It’s not hard to see why, as superficially it’s a less ingratiating
work. But persevere and the rewards are considerable. Foreman
notes that Henry Holst played it, as did Harrison - but Sammons
also promoted it. Jackson blanches his tone especially finely
in the first of the two movements and Wass insinuates ominous
tread as well. The Rite of Spring elements that haunt
the second movement are made rather explicit in this performance,
as well as those oases of lyricism that form the central
section. There’s a very ardent curve to the Baxian cantabile
The Naxos series has continued its devotion to Bax with impressive
results. You need the previously unrecorded sonata movements
if you’re serious about the composer. And the performances
are eloquent and impressive. Next up will be the second and
British composers on Naxos themed review page