Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

December 2003

Editor's Choice

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Bax - The Symphonies

Bax - The Symphonies


Symphonies Nos. 1-7


Rogue's Comedy Overture

A set that exudes love for the often great music on every page - a modern classic - James Jolly, Gramophone 1000th issue

“This Bax symphony cycle comes under the baton of the composer's doughtiest champion, and superlatives are in order. Even seasoned Baxians will be startled by the propulsive vigour and sinewy strength of these performances.
In its uncompromising thrust and snarling tragedy, Handley's account of the First Symphony packs an almighty punch, but also quarries great detail from Bax's darkly opulent orchestration. In the closing pages the motto theme's sanguine tread is soon snuffed out, as the shredded nerve-ends of this music are exposed as never before.
The wild and brooding Second generates less heady sensuality than either the Thomson or Myer Fredman's pioneering Lyrita version, but there's ample compensation in the chaste beauty and enviable authority of Handley's conception.
Scrupulous attention is paid to thematic unity and the many contrapuntal and harmonic felicities that bind together the progress of this extraordinary canvas. The BBC Philharmonic respond with such eager application that it's easy to forgive some slight loss of composure in the build-up to the cataclysmic pinnacle.
There can be no reservations about the Third, an interpretation that's by far the finest since Barbirolli's 1943-4 world première recording with the Hallé. Bax's iridescent textures shimmer and glow, bass lines stalk with reassuring logic and solidity, and these exemplary artists distil all the poetry and mystery in the ravishing slow movement and epilogue. Deeply moving is Handley's tender, unforced handling of the first movement's Lento moderato secondary material.
Handley's previous recording of the Fourth is comprehensively outflanked by this bracing remake. If you've ever regarded the Fourth as something of a loose-limbed interloper in the Bax canon, this will make you think again, such is the muscular rigour Handley locates in this lovable creation. At the same time, there's playful affection, rhythmic bite and pagan splendour of both outer movements.
Revelations abound, too, in the Fifth. Handley plots a superbly inevitable course through the first movement. At the start of the slow movement the glinting brilliance and sheen of the orchestral playing take the breath away, as does the richness of the lower strings in the first subject.
The finale is stunning, its whirlwind Allegro a veritable bevy of cackling demons.
The bass ostinato that launches the Sixth picks up where the epilogue of the Fifth left off. A taut course is steered through this stormy first movement, though in some ways Norman Del Mar's recording got closer still to the essence of Bax's driven inspiration. The succeeding Lento has a gentle radiance that's very affecting. However, it's in the innovatory finale where Handley pulls ahead of the competition, cannily keeping some power in reserve, and locating a transcendental wonder in the epilogue.
Handley's Seventh is wonderfully wise and characterful music-making, the first movement in particular sounding for all the world as if it was set down in a single take. There's bags of temperament about the performance, as well as an entrancing freedom, flexibility and purposefulness that proclaim an intimate knowledge of and total trust in the composer's intentions. The BBC Philharmonic respond with unflagging spirit and tremendous body of tone.
A majestic Tintagel and rollicking account of the 1936 Rogue's Comedy Overture complete the feast. Disc 5 houses an hour-long conversation about Bax the symphonist between the conductor and Andrew McGregor. Stephen Rinker's engineering does fabulous justice to Bax's imaginative and individual orchestration, particularly towards the lower end of the spectrum.
The set is magnificent; its insights copious.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Handley is in total sympathy with Bax's music and his direction is authoritative as well as idiomatic. Superb sound from the Chandos and BBC engineers. We would not be without this set.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

GGramophone Awards 2004

Record of the Year Finalist

GGramophone Magazine

100 Greatest Recordings

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2003

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

Chandos - up to 40% off

Chandos - CHAN10122

(CD - 5 discs)

Normally: $40.50

Special: $32.40

(also available to download from $50.00)

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Spem in alium

Spem in alium

Music for Monarchs and Magnates


Deus venerunt gentes

Gibbons, O:

O all true faithful hearts

Great King of Gods


Spem in alium for eight five-part choirs '40-part Motet'

Te Deum

Be strong

Sing and glorify heaven's high majesty

(English version of Spem in alium)


Know you not

O God, the heathen are come

“Spem is taken at a brisk canter, dressed in brightly coloured plumage, and with its words English'd. The celebratory atmosphere is reinforced by the addition of viols, winds and brass.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2010

“Spem is literally a surround-sound piece, so this recording, the first to use the latest technology in new audio formats, gets closer than most. The Sixteen (enlarged to the requisite 40) have a suitably festive air for this, their 25th anniversary recording.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Collection Recommendation

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2003

Building a Library

Recommended Version in English - October 2016

Super Audio CD


Hybrid Multi-channel

Coro - CORSACD16016



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Barber: Vanessa

Barber: Vanessa

(complete opera)

Ellen Chickering, Andrea Matthews, Ray Bauwens, Marian Dry, Richard Conrad, Philip Lima

National Symphony Chorus & Orchestra of Ukraine, Gil Rose

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2003

Naxos Opera Classics American Classics - 8669140-41

(CD - 2 discs)


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Usually despatched in 2 - 3 working days. (Available now to download.)

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