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Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1915) [30:55]
Ballad for Violin and Piano (1916) [6:48]
Legend for Violin and Piano (1915) [9:28]
Sonata in G minor: Allegro appassionato (1901) [7:34]
Sonata in F major (1928) [18:45]
Laurence Jackson (violin)
Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England; 4 December 2004
NAXOS 8.570094 [73:30]

Arnold Bax’s Second Violin Sonata, written in 1915 but revised and concentrated in 1920, is a far cry from the immediacy and exotic romanticism of his First. The woodland light and fairy dreaming have given way to reality and concerns about a world plunged into the horrors of the Great War. The principal motif, familiar from November Woods dominates the whole sonata. The opening movement, marked ‘Slow and Gloomy’ is anguished and despairing, with little relief from the violin’s sinking lines and passionate protests, and the piano’s doom-filled bass tread. “The Grey Dancer in the Twilight’ is Bax’s title for the second movement. Lewis Foreman states that it might also be called ‘The Dance of Death’. It is a waltz, bleached of joy - shades of Liszt’s Totentanz and Ravel’s La Valse. It comes to a full stop, in desolation, about half way through the movement to be followed by the violin’s melancholy statement of the main motif over piano arpeggios. The music eventually drags almost to a stop to merge into the third movement marked ‘Very broad and concentrated’. Here violin mourns and the piano writing seems to move in circles, turning in on itself as though lost and bewildered. The concluding movement marked ‘Allegro feroce’ is just that, for the most part. Bax seemingly shaking his fist in defiance at the madness consuming the world. Elsewhere the music escapes into a hoped for serenity, a nostalgic looking back to an ordered pre-war world. Jackson and Wass deliver a passionate, committed and finely shaded performance, the emotional impact of which is appreciated all the more on repeated hearings. Just what this darker, deeply-felt music richly deserves.
The other major work in this programme is the two-movement Sonata in F major completed in September 1928. Bax suppressed it during his lifetime because he soon afterwards re-scored it as his Nonet (January 1930). It was not performed in this form until the Bax centenary celebrations in 1983. This Sonata is, sunnier, more settled and serenade-like, yet there is, too, a discomforting edginess to some of its pages. Back to 1901 for Bax’s student work, the Allegro appassionato of the Sonata in G minor. It is an attractive piece, a confident and assertive work, passionate and romantic. It is not without wit, and was inspired by, and written for Bax’s Academy girlfriend Gladys Lees.
The Ballad for Violin and Piano begins very turbulently, the violin writing particularly agitated. This is Bax’s reaction to the tragedy of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. The music clearly reflects how these events must have affected the composer for he was passionately fond of all things Irish. Some of the people caught up in those terrible events were known personally to Bax – particularly Padraig Pearse who was one of those executed after the event. Balancing the turbulence is romantic reflective music with, again, some waltz measures. Legend for Violin and Piano from 1915 is said to have reflected the first months of the Great War and is elegiac in character. In the main the music does not suggest the horrors of war, apart from passages like the piano’s final pounding chords. Bax prefers to mourn, in some quite lovely pages, the passing of an era.
Committed and thoughtful performances of some of Bax’s most deeply-felt music concerned with the horrors of World War I and the tragic events of the Easter Uprising in Dublin.
Ian Lace


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