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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Sonata for viola and piano (1922) [22:37]
Concert Piece for viola and piano (1904)
Legend for viola and piano (1929)
Trio for violin, viola and piano (1906)
Martin Outram (viola), Laurence Jackson (violin), Julian Rolton (piano)
rec. 20-22 February 2005, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
NAXOS 8.557784 [61:03]


Like so many composers, Sir Arnold Bax is known by only a fragment of his large output of music. Chief among the neglected areas of his achievement is the chamber music, which is certainly less frequently performed and recorded than his richly romantic orchestral scores.

Therefore it is good to find these viola pieces coupled in an appealing budget release from Naxos, pleasingly recorded by a particular talented player and his colleagues. Bax enjoyed an enduring friendship with the great Lionel Tertis (subject of a recently published biography by John White), and the substantial Sonata of 1922 is one of his finest compositions in any genre. The opening makes an arresting impression, at once atmospheric and expressive, while the scherzo is particularly exciting rhythmically. Martin Outram plays with warm expressiveness and a suitably rich tone, while Julian Rolton on the piano is recorded in just the right balance of perspective.

There is no question that the Viola Sonata ranks as the most significant composition among those collected here, and it is worth the price of the disc on its own. Alternative recordings are not numerous, and the most interesting is probably from Biddulph (LAB 148, mono) by the legendary William Primrose, accompanied by Harriet Cohen, famous for her relationship with the composer. However, the historical interest needs to be offset against the distinct lack of bloom of the pre-war recording. Earlier still, the composer and Lionel Tertis recorded the piece in 1929, though their version has remained out of the catalogue for several years.

That same year of 1929 Bax composed the Legend for viola and piano, music of serious and nostalgic character which finds him at his most darkly expressive. The other items, the Concert Piece for viola and piano, and the Trio for violin, viola and piano, are both early works, written well before the First World War. The latter is the more substantial of the two, and must rate as one of the strongest compositions from this phase of Bax’s creative life.

Terry Barfoot 

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf


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