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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D (1915 rev. 1921) [31.57]
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1927) [19.45]
Violin Sonata in F (1928) [19.30]
Robert Gibbs (violin)
Mary Mei-Loc Wu (piano)
rec. St Giles Church, Kentish Town, London, 20-21 September 1999
ASV PRESTO CDDCA1098 [71.44]

ASV released six CDs either devoted to the music of Bax or including music by him. Three were devoted to the chamber music. This album’s companion CD with the same artists (ASV CDDCA1127 - review ~ review) had the 1901 single movement Violin Sonata in G minor and the 1921 Violin Sonata No. 1 in E with the two short pieces for violin and piano, Ballad and Legend. A third album was devoted to Bax’s complete works for cello and piano. A CD of piano trios included the Bax trio in B flat and two others by Stanford and Holst. Another had Emma Johnson playing in Bax’s Clarinet Sonata in B flat with other pieces by Bliss, Ireland and Vaughan Williams. Finally ASV released an album of sacred music by Bax and Percy Whitlock. Critics’ reception was very favourable.

The most substantial work on this present CD is Bax’s Second Violin Sonata in four movements each with distinctive movement descriptions. It is built on a cyclical form, the lovely rather sad melody first stated in the opening movement at 2.36 appearing in each succeeding movement. Bax describes his opening movement as a Fantasy (slow and gloomy) leading on to an Allegro section. His second movement is described as ‘The Grey Dancer in the Twilight’. It might, as Lewis Foreman suggests, also be called ‘The Dance of Death’; in fact the Dies Irae, Rachmaninov-like, is quoted. Sibelius’s Valse Triste also comes readily to mind. The whole is infinitely sad and it is said to have been influenced by the events on the Western Front in 1915. The third movement has a seemingly paradoxical direction ‘very broad and concentrated’. The music does meander but its lyricism captivates and enchants as though we have reached the serenity of the Elysian Fields. The fourth movement is an Allegro feroce. It is certainly animated and a sense of tragedy is underlined with the tune seemingly squashed, even drowned.

The Third Sonata, in two movements, is a driven piece written around the time his ‘other woman’, Mary Gleaves, came into his life. Her influence is manifest but also the elemental forces he witnessed from his sanctuary in Glencolumbcille. It opens in wistful sadness but the music evolves around a neo-Celtic song presented occasionally in an ‘other-worldly’ fashion. The second movement is a wild dance, ferocious and elemental at times, its textures rough and tangled.

The Violin Sonata in F is again in two movements. Its existence was unacknowledged by its composer in his lifetime probably because he used the music to fulfil a commission for his Nonet. It harks back to his earlier works. I was reminded very sharply about his early Russian influences and especially of the music of Rachmaninov. Straightaway there is a very clear suggestion of bells in the piano part, almost becoming a drone, with a more tender lyrical line for the violin. The second movement has marked vigour in its opening pages with a dark Bax vision before the mood relaxes, tenderness shines through and the sonata ends in serenity.

A must for all lovers of Bax’s special musical voice.
Ian Lace



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