This disc, very well recorded in 1996, is part of the series of Bax symphony recordings made by Naxos with these forces. The Scottish orchestra was brought right up to international standards by Jarvi and was recorded to good effect in those days by Chandos. Now the baton has been taken up by Naxos and it is a great pleasure to report that those very high orchestral standards have certainly been maintained. David Lloyd-Jones has created an enviable international reputation as a conductor of note so this series appears to have some exciting basic ingredients to offer.
The two poems, In the Faery Hills and The Garden of Fand are both works inspired by Bax's close identification with all things Irish. The symphony itself started life as an intended piano sonata but hugely outgrew that medium and thus became a symphony in greatly expanded form. It is cast in three movements and, although very lyrical in conception, it could be generally described as having significant elements of anger combined with sorrow. Although Bax did not clarify his thoughts in detail it is generally agreed that the symphony, completed in 1921-2, was strongly representative of his responses to the recently completed World War and the Irish Easter Rising of 1916. The anger he felt is implied in the opening Allegro moderato e feroce and the following Lento solenne. Continuing the theme of strife, the symphony concludes with Tempo di marcia trionfale.
The performances on this disc are significantly more driven than the Bryden Thompson set and quite a bit more than those of Handley. The Garden of Fand is also far better recorded and played than that in the respected but historic version by Barbirolli. This extra degree of power, forward drive and expressive bite is totally appropriate to the implied subject matter of the symphony in particular. At the same time Jones makes sure that the more delicate moments, such as are to be found in the two tone poems, are given appropriate light and delicate handling.
The disc further scores over Handley on Chandos by being more generously filled. Handley's versions are best purchased in the boxed symphonies with the majority of tone poems being collected on supplementary single discs. The extra material will be included as part of the ongoing series of symphony releases on Naxos which many will find more attractive as programming.
To conclude I would suggest that this set by Lloyd-Jones will be one to consider. Certainly this particular disc is well worth its moderate asking price and is arguably the best available at present regardless of price. As such it warrants serious consideration by all potential purchasers.
on 14 March 2008
I love the music of Bax, which seems to conjure a world of Arthurian Celticism and pre-industrial culture. It seems that more people than heretofore are coming to the same interest after decades of public uninterest and unknowing. Despite the (not always deserved) reputation of this label for cut-price recordings using little-known orchestras and conductors, their list is impressive and many of the CD's they make very fine. Personally, I found this CD to be one of those. Especially good was the tone poem In The Faery Hills, which seemed to me to capture the dreamy and sometimes dramatic essence of Bax's music. Parts of the playing had a suspenseful, almost Wagnerian quality. One could almost see green Pan emerge on those faery hills! Recommended.