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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1922) [22:37]
Concert Piece for Viola and Piano (1904) [12:30]
Legend for Viola and Piano (1929) [9:26]
Trio in one movement (1906)  [16:29]
Martin Outram (viola)
Laurence Jackson (violin), Julian Rolton (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 20-22 February 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557784 [61:03]
Experience Classicsonline

Bax is perhaps best known for his seven symphonies and rather epic tone poems, yet he also composed a good deal of chamber music. All of Bax’s viola works were written for the great violist Lionel Tertis, who was at that time (the early twentieth century), encouraging composers of the day to write more works for the viola. It was an instrument that rather took an – undeserved - back seat as far as solo works were concerned.
This disc opens with the Viola Sonata. It dates from 1922, a year after Bax had composed a Concerto, later re-named Phantasy, for viola - again, for Tertis. The Sonata was given its première in the Aeolian Hall in London with Tertis and Bax. Here, Martin Outram and Julian Rolton give a sympathetic performance of a complex work. Being fairly virtuosic in parts, with a frenzied scherzo and an atmospheric last movement, the piece enables the performers to demonstrate not just their understanding and love of the music, but also their technical abilities, which they do superbly.
Bax’s Concert Piece was composed in 1904. The young composer was obsessed with Ireland and everything Irish, and commented of this work “It will be observed that a Celtic element predominates, free use being made of the flattened seventh, the falling intervals of the pentatonic scale and other features peculiar to Irish folk music." Bax himself again gave the first performance later that same year, with Tertis, in the Aeolian Hall. With its wonderful combination of manic energy and lyricism, both the work, and the performance on this disc are spirited.
The Legend was Bax’s last completed work for viola. It is an introspective piece with some dark and severe moments but also some lighter episodes – here, again, beautifully played.
The Trio in One Movement concludes the disc. It is, like the Concert Piece, an early work, probably dating from 1906. Martin Outram and Julian Rolton are joined by Laurence Jackson on violin, in a lively performance of an exuberant work.
There is some really lovely - and sometimes unusual - music here, given top-class performances.
Em Marshall

see also reviews by Jonathan Woolf, Terry Barfoot and Michael Cookson


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