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Download: Chandos


Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Symphony No.7 (1938-9) [47:34]
Four Songs for Tenor and Orchestra (Glamour (1921) [8:59]; Slumber Song (1910, orch. 1914) [3:21]; Eternity (1925, orch. 1934) [2:57]; A Lyke-Wake (1908, orch. 1934) [7:04])
Martyn Hill (tenor)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 11-12 April 1988. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN8628 [70:20]
Experience Classicsonline


This is another of their deleted recordings which Chandos have made available online as an mp3 recording for £6.

The First and Seventh Symphonies have never enjoyed the same exposure as his central symphonic output, Numbers Two to Six. In the case of the Seventh the neglect is understandable since, by the time of its composition Bax had been replaced in popular esteem as the successor to Elgar by Vaughan Williams and Walton. Yet, though Bax’s imagination seems to have been burning at a lower intensity, the Seventh is still well worth hearing at the hands of Bryden Thomson, David Lloyd-Jones (Naxos), Raymond Leppard (Lyrita) or Vernon Handley, whose more recent box set of all the Bax Symphonies has ousted this recording from the main Chandos catalogue. 

Comparisons with Lloyd-Jones, Leppard and Handley show that, as usual, Thomson’s timings on paper seem slow, especially in the second movement where Leppard’s 14:06, Handley’s 13:32 and Lloyd-Jones’s 12:45 contrast markedly with Thomson’s 16:23 – and, indeed, with each other. Only in the finale is Thomson (14:09) faster than Lloyd-Jones (14:41). 

If you have read my reviews of the other Bryden Thomson recordings of Bax’s Symphonies, you will not be surprised to discover that I found his interpretation of the Seventh fully acceptable within its own terms. As usual, I found myself in his more leisurely company enjoying the scenery. 

The issue of couplings is particularly complex in the case of the Seventh Symphony. In CD format the Vernon Handley performance is available only as part of a box set, but in download form the disc coupling the Seventh, Tintagel and the Rogue’s Comedy Overture is available separately for £8.40 (mp3 at 320kbps) or £10 (lossless version). For anyone who has not yet acquired a version of the justly popular Tintagel, this may be the best option – but is there a Bax lover who does not already have at least one account of this piece? 

Lloyd-Jones (Naxos 8.557145) also offers Tintagel as a coupling, albeit the sole coupling – again, most collectors will probably have at least one version of Tintagel and, at 56:55, this Naxos disc offers the shortest value. It is, however, well worth considering, either on CD or as a download from classicsonline or emusic. For reviews of this version by RB and IL follow the links. 

Lyrita (SRCD232) offer the best value time-wise (77:51) with their coupling of the First and Seventh Symphonies under Myer Fredman and Raymond Leppard respectively. Their bravery in coupling Bax’s two least popular symphonies deserves our admiration at the very least. CC thought that it deserved more than that – see his review. The mp3 version of this coupling from emusic will cost you a mere six tracks of whatever monthly allocation you may have signed up for (or £1.44 for the whole programme if you take the 50-track-per-month option).

The Chandos/Thomson coupling is also generous but I must admit that these four songs did not exactly fire my enthusiasm, though Martyn Hill sings them sympathetically. A Lyke-Wake begs comparison with Britten’s haunting – and far superior – setting of the same traditional ballad. You may prefer to choose just the three tracks containing the symphony for £5.50 – after all, there’s no reason always to download a whole disc if you’re going to sync the tracks to your mp3 player. I must admit, however, that I like to burn the tracks to CD as well, if only to provide a home for the booklet which, as usual, can be downloaded as a pdf. document and printed. As with the rest of the series, those notes are well worth having. Even if you go for another version, they can be printed out free of charge. 

I found the recording more than acceptable, whether played via my mp3 player plugged into the Aux. socket of the Arcam Solo or burned to CD. This is not one of Chandos’s newer 320kbps recordings and there is no lossless equivalent – clicking on the icon of what purports to be a lossless version, with a W suffix, will lead you to a dead end. (Some of these deleted recordings are available in lossless format, however.) If you are happy with the quality of BBC Radio 3 on FM or DAB, except when the latter is reduced to 160kbps to accommodate sports broadcasts on Radio 5, you should not have any problems with this recording.

Brian Wilson




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