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Bax: Symphonic Variations CD

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Includes FREE MP3 version of this album.
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Bax: Symphonic Variations + Bax: Winter Legends, Morning Song, Saga Fragment
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Product details

  • Conductor: Judd
  • Composer: Bax
  • Audio CD (30 Mar. 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B001U1L9RQ
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 95,365 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part I: Theme: Lento espressivo - 2:28£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part I: Variation 1, "Youth": Allegro: Restless and tumultuous - 4:10£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen  3. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part I: Variation 2, "Nocturne": Slow and serene, Broadly - 6:36£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen  4. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part I: Variation 3, "Strife": Allegro vivace 7:39£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen  5. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part II: Variation 4, "The Temple": Slow and solemn - 9:43Album Only
Listen  6. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part II: Variation 5, "Play": Scherzo: Allegretto vivace - Intermezzo, "Enchantment": Very moderate tempo -10:27Album Only
Listen  7. Symphonic Variations in E major: Part II: Variation 6, "Triumph": Moderate tempo: Glowing and passionate 4:41£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen  8. Concertante for Piano Left Hand: I. Allegro moderato 8:03Album Only
Listen  9. Concertante for Piano Left Hand: II. Moderato tranquillo 7:43£0.89  Buy MP3 
Listen10. Concertante for Piano Left Hand: III. Rondo: Allegro moderato 6:24£0.89  Buy MP3 

Product Description

CD Description

Bax completed five works for piano and orchestra, beginning in 1916 with the highly virtuosic Symphonic Variations dedicated to the pianist Harriet Cohen. The work was likened by Rosa Newmarch, who wrote the programme note for the first performance, 'to some great epic poem dealing with the adventures of a hero... passing through a number of different experiences.' The Concertante for Piano (Left Hand) and Orchestra (1949) is on a smaller scale. The romantic slow movement opens with a beautiful and haunting piano tune which gives way to a brooding atmospheric middle section, coloured by typical Baxian orchestral textures, like swirling mists in a nocturnal vision of some Irish coastal vista.


''The young pianist Ashley Wass play[s] impeccably - not only stylishly, but also with subtle, expressive shading and lovely liquid tone quality.'' --The Independent

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Graham on 5 April 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The brilliant young English pianist Ashley Wass has already given us superb accounts of all Bax's solo piano music, as well as the works for two pianos (with Martin Roscoe), and now he has turned his attention to the concertante works, beginning with one of Bax's finest works - the Symphonic Variations. This was composed in 1916/17 and is therefore contemporary with the magnificent tone poems such as Tintagel, November Woods and The Garden of Fand. It is a richly imaginative score with more than a hint of what was to come later in the symphonies. In this work Bax sometimes reveals a lightness of touch, particularly in the sixth section which is entitled "Play". This is a scherzo that is full of high spirits. Throughout the work his orchestration is also somewhat lighter and more transparent than it sometimes is in the symphonies.

Ashley Wass handles the formidable technical difficulties with ease, just as he does in the piano sonatas, and he plays with great beauty and sensitivity in the quieter and more reflective passages. James Judd turns out to be a superb Bax conductor and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play as if they have been familiar with and loved this work all their lives. The Naxos recording is superb and captures every detail of this fascinating score. It is to be hoped that they will go on to record Winter Legends with Wass and Judd.

The disc also includes an equally fine performance and recording of the Concertante for Piano (left hand) and Orchestra. This comes from thirty years later (1949) and is on a smaller scale than the Variations. It is not by any means one of Bax's greatest works, but it is attractive none the less, with a beautiful and romantic slow movement.

Lovers of Bax's music, as well as those who are new to this great composer's works need not hesitate. Buy it today!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By music fanatic on 11 May 2009
Format: Audio CD
A great work by Arnold Bax one of Englands greatest 20th century composers.This was written during the 1st world War and dedicated to his lover and great pianist HARRIET COHEN.It is a sprawling work which takes a few hearings to allow complete understanding.Once grasped it shows his lyrical and inventive genius.It should be played more often.This is a great recording and reasonably priced.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Bax Symphonic Variations Concertante 26 Nov. 2009
By E. S. Wilks - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Despite recent pioneering efforts by several recording companies, especially Chandos and Naxos, to promote the music of Sir Arnold Bax, most of today's music-lovers and concert-goers remain largely unaware of this English composer, whose music was much better known during the first half of the twentieth century. Audiences are notoriously fickle; Mahler, largely shunned during his life, suddenly came into vogue around 1960, and his popularity today remains undiminished. After their deaths, Elgar, Sibelius, and Vaughan Williams were forgotten; today, happily, concert performances include their music. The lamentably long list of composers consigned to obscurity or oblivion even before they died includes Bax.
Many who recognize Bax's name can probably recall only one work - his symphonic poem "Tintagel," a wonderfully evocative portrait of the sea. That today's concert-goers are so unaware of Bax's music is indeed sad, because he wrote in a late-Romantic and thoroughly approachable though admittedly often complex style. Though Bax was a pianist with a commanding style, he chose to compose, rather than concertize. His personal life affected his compositions; he deserted his family and had a long, passionate love affair with the pianist Harriet Cohen, for whom he wrote several compositions for piano and orchestra. Harriet eventually discovered that he also had a second mistress; one can only imagine her reaction to that revelation!
Both "Symphonic Variations" and "Concertante for Piano (Left Hand)," which Bax wrote for Harriet after she had injured her right hand, are available on other CDs, but not coupled together, as on this CD, which, being budget-priced, offers formidable competition to earlier recordings. The performances are excellent and the sound is clear with good balance between soloist and orchestra. Strongly recommended for those willing to explore Bax's music and wanting these two works on one CD.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
early and late Bax works for piano and orchestra 27 Feb. 2011
By jsa - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Symphonic Variations, which dates from 1918, was the first of five works that Arnold Bax wrote for piano and orchestra. It has an interesting history in that it was written for Bax's lover, Harriet Cohen, who was a fine pianist, but was limited by small hands and webbed fingers. She gave the premier performance in 1920, however, since she had difficulty with some of the writing, Bax revised the score to suit her. Cohen had exclusive performance rights to the work, but the score was damaged when her house was bombed in 1940, thus ending the possibility of further performances. Fortunately, the original score was reconstructed from a complete set of parts that surfaced in the 1960's after which recordings were made by Joyce Hatto with Vernon Handley in 1970 (nla), and Margaret Fingerhut with Bryden Thomson in 1987 (Bax: Orchestral Works, Vol. 7). This recording by Ashley Wass, the first to appear in over twenty years, is a statement about the ongoing revival of interest in the music of Arnold Bax and the enterprising producers at Naxos, who continue to mine a rich vein of British music from the last century.

To call the Symphonic Variations rhapsodic is an understatement - it's a massive, sprawling thing, which at nearly 46 minutes is the longest work Bax wrote for orchestra. It's not a piano concerto and despite its name is not a set of variations either; it's a series of eight loosely connected atmospheric sketches bearing titles such as Youth, Nocturne, Strife and Enchantment which, as Lewis Foreman observes in his liner notes, "have never been satisfactorily explained." The Symphonic Variations was written during a period of domestic discord in Bax's life (he was soon to leave his wife for Harriet Cohen), and while the passion for Harriet undoubtedly found its way into the music, as did the events of the Great War, the knowledge of this is a footnote when it comes to appreciating the music. It's written in the inimitable language of the composer, with bold strokes, voluptuous in places against a canvas of Baxian "northernness." The music takes it's time to get "somewhere," if anywhere at all, the real destination being the world of sound and impressions. It takes some patience to appreciate this work, which in some ways is too much of a good thing.

The Concertante for Piano (1949) was also written for Harriet Cohen, under rather unusual circumstances. Apparently after the death of Bax's long-estranged wife, Harriet expected that the composer would finally marry her; however, upon learning from Bax that he had another mistress, she dropped a tray of drinks, injuring her right wrist. As a result Bax wrote the Concertante, which is for the left hand, for her. While it makes for a pleasant filler, it's a mere afterthought compared to the weighty Symphonic Variations.

My introduction to the Symphonic Variations was through the Fingerhut recording on Chandos, which I think is a good one. It also has the advantage of coming in a budget two disc set along with Winter Legends, a Bax work for piano and orchestra that outshines the Symphonic Variations. The Wass recording is a very good one too, and given that he has recorded Winter Legends along with the Saga Fragment and Morning Song (to be released in 2011) prospective purchasers might consider picking up the current disc and waiting for Naxos to issue the new one.

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