|1. 1. Allegro moderato e feroce - Moderato espressivo - Tempo 1|
|2. 2. Lento solenne|
|3. 3. Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non troppo presto|
|4. 1. Lento moderato - Allegro moderato / Allegro feroce - Piu lento - Lento moderato / Allegro moderato - Allegro|
See all 6 tracks on this disc
|1. Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 35|
|1. 1. Poco lento - Allegro con fuoco - Dolce meno mosso - A tempo 1 (Allegro con fuoco) - Moderato - Tempo 1 (Poco Lento)|
|2. 2. Poco lento - Molto tranquillo - Tempo 1|
|3. 3. Poco moderato - Allegro - Lento - Tempo 1 (Allegro) - Con brio - Piu lento|
|4. 1. Moderato - Allegro con fuoco|
See all 5 tracks on this disc
|1. Allegro - Brillante molto|
|2. 1. Allegro - Poco meno mosso - Tempo 1 - Poco largamente - Tempo 1|
|3. 2. Lento - Piu mosso. In Legendary Mood - Tempo 1|
|2. Bax and Vaughan Williams|
|3. Bax and his musical influences|
|4. First Symphony|
See all 10 tracks on this disc
The symphonies, written between 1921 and 1939, certainly reflect both inner and outer events: the Irish uprising, which deeply affected Bax who loved Ireland and lost many friends in the "troubles", World War I and the looming threat of World War II. Perhaps the most striking and pervasive characteristic of the music is contrast.
All the symphonies have three movements divided into many sections with different tempo indications, signalling changing mood and character. Indeed, moods change constantly, often abruptly and violently; dynamics surge and swell, climaxes build with increasingly ferocious power. The orchestration is masterful, creating colour, texture, atmosphere and expression--at full throttle, the sound shakes the rafters. The music is predominantly serious, somber and dark with outbursts of passion, turbulence, bitterness and anger, relieved by unexpectedly rambunctious and martial sections. Every symphony opens on low instruments, setting a dark, ominous mood, but several end with a triumphant flourish, while others fade away with an Epilogue in serenity or resignation. No. 7 is regarded as Bax's compositional farewell, No. 4 as "cheerful and blustery." The form is sometimes cyclical, with opening material returning in another guise, which, for the naked ear, is difficult to discern. Most memorable are the truly beautiful, luxuriously lyrical melodies that abound especially in the slow movements. The playing is first-rate throughout. --Edith Eisler, Amazon.com
I was also fortunate to be in the youth choir attached to the orchestra – the Proteus Choir, who joined with the Philharmonic Choir for bigger works such as Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontious” and Finzi’s “Intimations of Immortality” – which we recorded on a freezing November day in Guildford Cathedral for Lyrita.
So I’ve followed Tod’s recording career with interest – monumental symphonic cycles – Vaughan Williams, Robert Simpson, Elgar, Malcolm Arnold – and award winning (and very enterprising) repertoire ignored by most other conductors who either don’t see its worth, can’t be bothered to learn it, or don’t see how it can advance their careers. The big gap in Tod’s discography is now well and truly filled with this stunning set of Bax Symphonies from Chandos. It might have taken 40 years from the 4th with the Guildford Phil to do it, but it’s certainly worth the wait.
Listening to the complete cycle allows a thorough reassessment of Bax – not just pursuing a “celtic twilight” deadend in 20th Century music but riding an individual mainstream current of tremendous emotional depth. As an achievement, his symphonies stand alongside those of Sibelius, Nielsen, and Vaughan Williams. Anyone who cares about accessible “modern” music should hear these recordings. Those who have David Lloyd-Jones recordings on Naxos (about the same price for the complete cycle as this Chandos set, but with extra pieces) – which Tod Handley says he learnt from, in his interview on disc 5 (a very worthwhile extra) should also get this new set for the insights it provides.
The Chandos recording is well up to their usual immaculate standards (but why no multichannel SACD?) with each disc in it’s own slip case of session photos, along with a three language booklet – mainly another interview with Tod, this time with Bax’s biographer Lewis Foreman.
An overriding impression is one of emotional intensity and sheer quality. As usual Tod is the servant of the music – never the other way round – and Bax’s vision shines as bright as it ever could.
I have two minor disappointments. First,the interview that comprises the fifth disc, fascinating though it is, would have benefited from inclusion of musical examples. Secondly, Handley's instinct for tempo lets him down only once, in the recording of "Tintagel". The opening is, in my view, too broadly taken, and the music even begins to sag. But those niggles should not detract from this magnificent set, which ought to win every award going and which also proves that Bax was one of the greatest of British composers and a symphonist to rank with the very best.
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