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Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Cello Concerto (1934) [33:43]
Northern Ballad No.3 (1933) [8:35]
Cortège for Orchestra (date unknown) [5:45]
Mediterranean (1920, orch. 1922) [3:51]
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1930) [10:57]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 1986-87. DDD.
Written at the height
of his creative powers in the early 1930s, before his position
as heir-apparent to Elgar was challenged by Vaughan Williams
and Walton, the Bax Cello Concerto may not be a
neglected masterpiece, but it is a fine work, well worth
hearing in such an excellent performance.
Though deleted as a CD
with this coupling, the recording remains available as
an mp3 download from Chandos at theclassicalshop for £6. It
is also available re-coupled with the Violin Concerto and Morning
Song as a mid-price CD, mp3 (£6) and lossless wma (£8)
download (CHAN10154X). That new coupling, with three concertante
works together, may be preferred by some, but this original
version also remains fully viable. Whichever format you
choose, the mp3 version is offered at the superior bit-rate
of 320kbps – very little inferior to CD quality to my elderly
ears, though younger listeners may prefer to go for the
wma version. (Be aware, however, that the CD will cost
you little, if any, more than this lossless download).
The couplings here are
also available redistributed across the mid-price reissues
in Chandos’s series of Bax’s Orchestral Works – Northern
Ballad No.3 and Mediterranean on CHAN10155X
with Vernon Handley’s versions of Spring Fire and
the Symphonic Scherzo; Cortège and the Picaresque
Overture with Nympholept and other works are
Like the Violin Concerto,
the Cello Concerto is rhapsodic in form; if you
like your concertos more tightly structured, you may not
warm to it as much as I do. Its dedicatee, Cassadó, quickly
lost interest in it – at least he performed it, which is
more than can be said for Heifetz, the dedicatee of the Violin
Concerto – and it was left to Beatrice Harrison to
champion it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the
only available recording, though, as it is so good, that
need be no cause for concern.
Raphael Wallfisch had
already made an excellent recording of the Moeran Cello
Concerto, now re-coupled with an equally fine version
of his Violin Concerto (Lydia Mordkovitch) and Whythorne’s
Shadow on mid-price CHAN10168X, another highly recommendable
Chandos CD or download. If anything, his performance of
the Bax exceeds that earlier achievement and he is well
supported by orchestra and conductor alike. Bryden Thomson’s
Bax performances were always sympathetic, if a trifle on
the slow side – he liked to give us time to appreciate
the beauties of the music.
Northern Ballad No.3 was originally
published with the enigmatic and inappropriate title Prelude
for a Solemn Occasion. This recording was its first
outing without the other two Northern Ballads – there is
no valid reason why they should be performed together and
it makes a most appropriate follow-up to the Cello Concerto. If
pushed for a preference of coupling, I would plump for
the present one, rather than have three concertante works
follow hard on each other’s heels. The re-coupling of
the Moeran concertos is a different matter, since those
two works are separated by the purely orchestral – and
very beautiful – piece Whythorne’s Shadow.
Cortège is the weakest
work on the recording. The circumstances of its composition
are unknown and it was never performed in Bax’s lifetime. It
is, nevertheless, worth hearing in such a sympathetic performance. Its
cheerful jauntiness belies its title.
Mediterranean is a delightful
and evocative piece – it deserves to be as well known as Tintagel and The
Garden of Fand and is worthy of comparison with Ravel’s
evocations of Spain.
The Picaresque Overture,
once one of Bax’s most popular works, was conceived as
a pastiche in the manner of Richard Strauss. Whilst it
is no match for Till Eulenspiegel or Don Juan – Bax
did not really have his contemporary Eric Coates’s knack
of writing light music – it is a pleasant enough piece
and, like everything here, receives a sympathetic performance.
Whether played from my
mp3 player via the Arcam Solo or burned to CD – my preferred
option, if only to find a home for the booklet – the recording
sounds first-rate. That booklet is available as a pdf.
document to print out; the notes which it contains, by
Lewis Foreman, are, as always, excellent.
Having reviewed Bryden
Thomson’s versions of the Bax Symphonies and Volumes 3
and 9 of the Orchestral Works in their reissued format,
I hadn’t intended to do any more Bax for a while until
a reader asked (or challenged?) me if I was going to review
the rest. What started as something of a chore in answer
to that reader has led to my pleasure in making the acquaintance
of these versions of the Violin and Cello Concertos, which
I had not heard for quite some time. I am grateful for
the opportunity. It would have taken very little persuasion
to have made this recording a Bargain of the Month.
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