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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
Bax: The Symphonies 1-7, Tintagel, Rogue's Comedy & interview with Vernon Handley
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on 16 November 2014
Awesome love it
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on 19 October 2011
Just wonderful - this box set has become the soundtrack of my life. For me the genius of Bax is that each movement is a surprise no matter how many times I have heard it. The music defies memory somehow, every listening is fresh.
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on 25 January 2016
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on 14 November 2014
Bax goes back a long way for me. I first met him via the Lyrita label and Grimsby public library circa 1973: I borrowed his second and sixth symphonies and was hooked. But there were no generally available recordings. I was living in Camberwell in the early 1980s and managed to borrow the same records and this time record them on tape. Also, at that time the recordings of Bryden Thompson and th3 Ulster orchestra were coming out. Sometime in the mid 1980s I even managed to see Thompson conduct Bax's 7th (I think with the LPO, but may be mistaken!). Bax has gone a long way since then: there are now many recordings of his many works. However, I think that this is the best cycle of his symphonies (although I still love the lyrita recordings). Handley was a great conductor and the BBC Northern a great orchestra. Conductor and orchestra better than Thompson/Ulster. The Scottish cycle on Naxos is also good, but nothing as yet beats this. I know Bax remains a person who excites enthusiasts but has yet to reach a wider audience, but as an "enthusiast" his cycle of symphonies is for me second only to Shostakovitch (OK, maybe Prokofiev, but only because of his 5th) for the 20th Century. His sixth symphony has always been a particular favorite, so sublime and moving. The opening riff still rocks as it did when I first heard it back in 1973. The transcendent clarinet in the opening of the finale. But, also his 1,2,3 and not to forget 5 and 7. Only poor old 4 gets a bad press (even Tod in his interview): but what an opening! I know Vaughan Williams is more popular, but much as I love VW, Bax is my man!
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on 23 January 2016
Let me be clear: these performances are never less than good and I wouldn't want to be without this set. However, for all Vernon Handley's supposed architectural "grip," what I find lacking is, for want of better words, imagination and spirituality. It's all so "correct" and features some rather lack-lustre, uncommitted orchestral playing, to boot. My (personal) recommendations for Bax's symphonies recordings are:
No.1: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Myer Fredman - who really brings out the utter parody of the last movement.
No. 2: either London Philharmonic Orchestra / Myer Fredman or, on Chandos, Bryden Thomson. The latter is truly devastating!
No.3: LPO / Bryden Thomson and/or (if still available) Sir John Barbirolli's pioneering version with the Halle Orchestra.
No. 4: BBCPO / Vernon Handley and/or Ulster Orchestra / Bryden Thomson. David Lloyd Jones' account with the RSNO is also excellent.
No. 5: BBCPO / Vernon Handley and/or RSNO / David Lloyd Jones. Bryden Thomson's version with the LPO is utterly musclebound and the least satisfactory of his set.
No.6: New Philharmonia / Norman Del Mar and/or LPO / Bryden Thomson (his principal trumpet, to judge from his slovenly-played solo in the second movement, hasn't been made aware of the "Scottish Snap," surely ... otherwise a grand performance).
No. 7: All recordings of Bax's finest work (Yes!!) are excellent, but David Lloyd Jones' account with the RSNO is head and shoulders above the rest.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2007
I am writing this review because I don't want people who buy this set to be a little disappointed, as I was. To get one thing straight from the beginning, this set is very well worth getting and will do quite adequately as a single representative of the Bax symphonies for there is not a poor performance among the seven. But Handley himself would not claim "definitiveness" for his performances: he has speeded up his interpretations in several of the symphonies over the years, for example.

The Chandos recordings are very natural in sound but are not quite of demonstration quality - at least on my equipment. Also, the BBC Philharmonic, fine orchestra that it is, does not quite match the splendours of the Ulster Orchestra in Symphony 4 (Chandos/Thompson) or the London Philharmonic in the Lyrita disc of 1 and 7 (Fredman/Leppard) - an essential disc Bax lovers. Symphonies 3, 5 and 7 are, in my opinion, rather more successful in the David Lloyd Jones/Naxos performances, and I found Handley's obvious desire to produce a cogent and tense interpretation of Symphony 5 to be actually rather rushed. In this case I feel that the nordic and "legendary" qualities of the work have been sacrificed to symphonic argument. This very personal view is probably influenced by my encounter with the Lyrita LP in the 1970's, which I hope will reappear (the Bax 6 on Lyrita has been issued this month, July 2007).

The current set is very attractively packaged and offers a keenly interesting traversal of the symphonies. But no set can be the "last word." Thankfully the excellent Naxos Lloyd Jones discs are inexpensive to buy and offer well contrasted alternatives to the symphonies presented here. I have them both and am glad of it and would advise buyers to get both this Chandos set and the Naxos. It is also very encouraging that Bax's music is now available in several alternative versions.
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on 7 January 2004
I had the good fortune to spend my teenage years in Guildford when Vernon (Tod) Handley had just been appointed as musical director to the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra – then a good semi-professional outfit, soon to be turned into an excellent professional body by Tod Handley. His enterprising programming would make concert promoters today quake: who would programme pieces like Martinu’s “Epic of Gilgamesh”, Constant Lambert’s “Rio Grande”, Arthur Bliss’s “Morning Heroes”, plus Boulez, Berg, and Webern? Then there were the British symphonists: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton – and Bax. The Guildford Phil recordings of Bax’s 4th (technically a bit on the “thin” side) and Bax’s Symphonic Variations were hardly ever off my turntable.
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.
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on 13 November 2003
Those who have waited for Vernon Handley to records his thoughts on this glorious music will need no prompting in acquiring this set. For people who are new to Bax or have listened to other versions of the symphonies, this new set is, quite simply, definitive. The sound is much better than on the Naxos recordings and Handley's concentration on symphonic form means that these works re-emerge as cogent arguments rather than the post-romantic wallows that they sometimes become in the Thompson records. Handley has lived with these works all his working life, and it shows. He has a knack of hitting exactly the right tempos (with one exception - see below) and is helped by a rich, deep sound that brings out the full power of these works; surely the opening of the 6th symphony has never sounded so menacing. The balance is excellent - those who know these works will notice details of orchestration that are not apparent on rival versions. The playing of the BBCPO, woodwind solos in particular, is also very fine; one senses that the players knew they were involved in something rather special (this began as a recording of the 3rd symphony that was intended to be given away with BBC Music Magazine; thanks to the BBCPO's persistence, the project grew to a recording of the complete cycle).
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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on 11 May 2015
This seems to be the most hard hitting of the three Bax Symphony cycles currently available and although that is not always an advantage there is still plenty to savour . Bryden Thompson is perhaps the best all round bet as he gets to the heart of the music very convincingly . The David Lloyd-Jones discs on Naxos are also excellent with an outstanding version of the enigmatic 7th .
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on 23 August 2013
I have been listening to Bruckner symphonies for the last 3 months and has become an addict and taught patience and to have an open mind.In these 3 months I could not listen to other composers and even Beethoven 9 seems dul.My thousands of cd were just lying of my shelf. The perfect cure was to listen to listen to all Bax symphonies which enjoy and start apreciating all the symphonies.Now I listen myself to one Symphony of Brucker per day and begining to listen to opera and all other composers.I hope that I do not become addicted to Bax.This box is highly recommende with excellent.To all addict of Bruckner and Mahler the perfect solution and cure is to listen to Bax symphonies and there is no side effects and withdrawl symptoms and still have a daily dose of one Bruckner symphony perday and do not exceed the dosage.Any one has a better cure for Bruckner addicts............
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