Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Chamber Music for Harp
Valse - for Solo Harp (1931) [4:11]
In Memoriam - for English Horn, String Quartet and Harp (1917) [8:00]
Fantasy Sonata - for Viola and Harp (1927) [22:43]
Quintet - for String Quartet and Harp (1919) [13:29]
Sonatina for Flute and Harp (1928) [17:51]
Marcia Dickstein (harp)
with Evan Wilson (viola); Angela Wiegand (flute); Leslie Reed (English Horn); Rene Mandel (violin); Natalie Leggett (violin); Simon Oswell (viola); Timothy Landauer (cello)
rec. no details.
This disc has been out for more than a decade now. It was first issued in 1998. Apart from its clamant musical attractions it also reflects Marcia Dickstein's demanding approach to establishing as close to the urtext as possible and of purging errors from published sources. In this she has had authoritative allies in the shape of Lewis Foreman, Graham Parlett and the Bax Trust. 

I am just delighted to be able to enjoy such a well executed collection. The harp is a troubadour instrument - as Sibelius has reminded us - as well as one of Gallic elegance. Bax's use of the harp here as well as in the orchestral works (first movement of Sixth Symphony or In the Faery Hills) is part Bardic and part feline elegance. The quirky Valse for solo harp (1931)despite coming from the peak symphonic years has more in common with Ravel. Dickstein impresses here as elsewhere with her powerful delivery and her delicacy in matters of dynamics. Coming from 1931 the Valse is therefore from his maturity. It was written as a gift for the long-lived Sidonie Goossens, for many years the harpist of the BBCSO. In Memoriam is a most beautiful piece of probing Celtic poetry - a love-song and a lament to the memory of Padraig Pearse, a leading Nationalist killed in the Easter Rising. You may know it from the Chandos CD by the ensemble of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields where it is differently coupled.
The Fantasy-Sonata for viola and harp has been recorded before. It is bitter-sweet. Written idiomatically it is technically challenging for each instrument. The fairytale spells of the Allegro moderato second movement are evocative of illustrations by Edmond Dulac or Kay Nielsen. The third movement epitomises the plangency of the travelling harper while the finale takes us into dark realms as easily as the Viola Sonata and several of the two-piano pieces.
The Harp Quintet of 1919 has been around for many years going back to Laura Newell and the Stuyvesant Quartet’s American Philharmonia LP on PH102/PH109 and a Chandos LP (ABRD1113) then CD with Skaila Kanga and the English String Quartet. It's a lilting and concise single-movement piece. It's not without drama, ecstatic longing or heart-melting melodies.
The 1928 Sonatina for Flute and Harp is more playfully Gallic than Celtic though the Lento does take us into the Faery courts. The finale is jaunty.
Bax had the Polish harpist, Maria Korchinska in mind when writing many of these works.
Dickstein points out in her liner-note that this is not all the Bax chamber music with harp. There was room for more and I do hope that in the fullness of time these same forces will tackle the remaining Bax harp works.
This is a disc you may have overlooked. I had until recently. It is a most desirable thing and one guaranteed to draw in all Baxians but also the legion admirers of Ravel's Septet, Ropartz's Prélude, Marine et Chanson and Debussy's Danses Sacrées et Danse Profanes.
Rob Barnett
This is a most desirable CD guaranteed to draw in all Baxians but also admirers of Ravel's Septet.