Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Works for Cello and Piano and Cello Solo
Sonatina in D (1933) [15:28]
Rhapsodic Ballad for solo cello (1939) [13:57]
Folk-Tale (1918) [9:19]
Legend-Sonata in F sharp minor (1943) [27:12]
Lionel Handy (cello), Nigel Clayton (piano)
rec. St Swithun's School, Winchester, 16-17 July 2012<
Bax's chamber music is extensive but the music for cello and piano is the most neglected within the medium. We have not been overrun with recordings. The cello and piano collection in mono by Florence Hooton - Handy's teacher at the Royal Academy - and Wilfrid Parry (Lyrita REAM.2104) sounds rather long in the tooth now. It is important, however, for its connections back to the original performing tradition. It offers all the above works in mono minus the rarely heard Rhapsodic Ballad but with the lanky 1932 Sonata instead.

The Sonatina is in three concentrated movements: an attractively upbeat Allegro Risoluto, played here with plenty of attack and impetus; a rolling and rocking Andante; and a jaunty and lightly glinting Moderato given to the sort of delightful poetic asides for which Bax is famed. The Rhapsodic Ballad is huskily put across by Handy - very much a work of atmosphere and legendary fantasy though intensely serious. It was written for Beatrice Harrison - as were the 1923 and 1943 sonatas. Its stars were not well favoured. Harrison never played it and it languished until taken up by Bernard Vocadlo in 1966 and then a year later by Rohan de Saram, who recorded it for issue on a Pearl LP (SHE 547). That was a fine recording and even now I wish it could find a home on CD. Raphael Wallfisch, who knows the Bax Cello Concerto so well and recorded it for Chandos (CHAN8494), has also recorded the Rhapsodic Ballad (CHAN8499).

The overture-length Folk-Tale comes from the year after Tintagel and November Woods. It has a distinctly and dreamily Irish aspect and a sense of instinctive progress impelled by lyricism rather than rhythmic grit. The Legend-Sonata seemed to lack conviction in the other recorded versions. Handy turns that around here. Its three movements work very well and the typically resolute writing encountered in the Rondo allegro finale is given with convincing determination and spirit. The flame of inspiration burnt wildly in this writing dating from the beginning of the decade before Bax's death.

The booklet is attractively done and Lewis Foreman's notes - fluent and to the point - are well worth reading. They bear the depth of his erudition lightly.

The closest match for this collection in modern-ish sound is the now deleted ASV CD collection (DCA 896) with Bernard Gregor-Smith and Yolande Wrigley. Allowing for the fact that the coupling is not identical I see no reason for you to go seeking out that disc in the face of the riches on display here.

Rob Barnett

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