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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Orchestral Works - Volume 9
The Truth About The Russian Dancers – incidental music (1920) [46:36]
From Dusk Till Dawn – ballet (1917) [20:25]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London, 5-6 March 1990. DDD.
CHANDOS DOWNLOAD [67:12]
Experience Classicsonline


This reissue is available on CD (as CHAN10457X) and as a download and has been reviewed as the latter. 

As a very recent convert to downloading, I chose the latter, available in mp3 format for £6.00 and in lossless format for £8.00.   Having been critical of the quality of downloads, many of them offered at 192kbps or less, I decided to try the mp3 version at 320kbps and was most pleasantly surprised; Chandos now joins Gimell – also offering mp3s at 320kbps – on my approved list.
 
The music under review may not be the most essential Bax, but it is very attractive.  Bax novices, however, would be better advised to try some of the symphonies and tone poems, either on Chandos or more economically on Naxos.  Chandos CHAN10156X, offering The Garden of Fand, Tintagel and other works, would be a good place to start: like the present recording, this is available on CD, in mp3 format for £6.00 and as a lossless download for £8.00. 
 
The Truth about the Russian Dancers arose from the ashes of Bax’s frustrated ambition to earn a commission from Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes with, he hoped, his beloved Tamara Karsavina dancing in it.  When the projected ballet King Kojata, or Tamara, fell through, the playwright J M Barrie came to Bax’s rescue with a play entitled The Truth about the Russian Dancers, showing how they love, how they are made, how they die and live happily ever after, with music commissioned from Bax and based in part on music rescued from the projected Tamara ballet.  The music was well received at the time but disappeared below the horizon along with the Barrie play.  Several short suites were extracted in the 1960s and broadcast by the BBC, but it was only with this Chandos recording that the music resurfaced in 1990.
 
The plot of the play is somewhat thin – boy meets girl, boy marries girl, a son is born, the mother dies. The music is undeniably episodic, as incidental music perforce must be, but this revival is well worth hearing.  There are 21 sections in all, some of them extremely short (track 6 lasts for a mere 18 seconds, track 7 for 28 seconds).  Chandos cue them all separately, thereby creating a problem with the download, to which I shall refer later.
 
From Dusk till Dawn was commissioned by Mrs Christopher Lowther, later Lady Cholmondeley, in 1917 and produced in December that year with Mrs Lowther dancing the title role.  As with the Russian Dancers, some of the music was rescued from the Diaghilev fiasco; it also disappeared from view – in this case, between two concert performances in 1918 and its revival at the Petworth Festival in 1982.  It, too, is very episodic – track 32 a mere 9 seconds – but attractive music.  Both works are frequently reminiscent of better-known Bax and display the rich sound-palette of those more familiar pieces.
 
With Bryden Thomson in control, the performances are first-rate.  The LPO in 1990 may not have been one of the world’s greatest orchestras, but their playing here is excellent.
 
The attractive front cover and the complete booklet, with its very informative notes, are available for free download – even by those who don’t buy the music.
 
I had no grumbles about the mp3 recording: 320kbps is audibly better than Radio 3’s 192kbps and twice Classic FM’s bit-rate of 160; though Chandos carefully remind would-be purchasers that even 320kbps is not CD standard, I could find no fault with what I heard.  If your ears are particularly discriminating, go for the lossless version, but be aware that this will eat up rather more of any monthly limit your provider may impose.  Slightly confusingly, this recording is also still listed on Chandos’s website for mp3 and lossless download under the original catalogue number (CHAN8863).
 
Chandos recommend checking the tracks of each work so that the music downloads and plays consecutively, but I found that my initial download contained brief ‘dropouts’ between tracks, a problem exacerbated by Windows Media Player’s habit of adding a 1-second pause when it encounters such brief hiatuses.  I contacted Chandos about this problem and received a prompt and helpful email, explaining that whenever this problem was noted and reported to them, they would add the facility to download the entire programme.  Returning to my order history, which Chandos generously make available even after the initial download, I found that this was indeed the case and downloaded the entire programme, thereby obviating the problem.  Make sure you use a Download Manager for this, or you may encounter problems with such a large file.
 
My own preference is to burn the music onto a CDR – where else would you store the booklet when printed out? – but many will be happy to leave the music on the PC and listen through headphones or stream wirelessly to an audio system.
 
Whichever format you choose, if you are already a Bax convert, you will enjoy this new reissue.  Since I spent my own money on the download, you can be doubly sure of my recommendation.
 
Brian Wilson
 


 


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