Bax - Symphonic Variations

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Bax - Symphonic Variations



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Release date:

30th March 2009




67 minutes


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Bax - Symphonic Variations


Symphonic Variations

Concertante for Piano (left hand) & Orchestra


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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

Arnold Bax: Symphonic Variations in E major

Part I: Theme: Lento espressivo

Part I: Variation 1, "Youth": Allegro: Restless and tumultuous

Part I: Variation 2, "Nocturne": Slow and serene, Broadly

Part I: Variation 3, "Strife": Allegro vivace

Part II: Variation 4, "The Temple": Slow and solemn

Part II: Variation 5, "Play": Scherzo: Allegretto vivace - Intermezzo, "Enchantment": Very moderate tempo

Part II: Variation 6, "Triumph": Moderate tempo: Glowing and passionate

Arnold Bax: Concertante for Piano Left Hand

I. Allegro moderato

II. Moderato tranquillo

III. Rondo: Allegro moderato

BBC Music Magazine

May 2009


“…Bax's monumental Symphonic Variations was written in 1916-18 at the height of his torrid affair with Harriet Cohen… Ashley Wass and James Judd… seem to find an extra degree of rhythmic excitement in the bravura 'Strife' variation, and Wass's playing of the big solo at the start of the finale is eloquent...”

Gramophone Magazine

June 2009

“A marvellous musical team weaves its magic in this spellbinding repertoire. …Ashley Wass is the most stylish, characterful and charismatic of the three soloists: the way he shapes the spellbinding opening paragraph of the final section ("Triumph", one of Bax's symphonic epilogues in all but name) is sheer magic and betokens a true poet of the keyboard.”

Gramophone Classical Music Guide


“Composed between 1916 and 1918, the SymphonicVariations for piano and orchestra bear a dedication to Bax's muse and lover, Harriet Cohen. It's an expansive and highly virtuoso work in two parts, whose six sections are apportioned titles ('The Temple' being the most eyecatching) that tantalisingly suggest some underlying programme. Borrowings from Bax's own First Violin Sonata and (more crucially) his 1916 setting of George 'AE' Russell's poem Parting, add a further layer of autobiographical intrigue.
Best to sit back and let the piece weave its uniquely potent spell, for it contains page after page as raptly beautiful and ecstatically sensuous as even Bax ever conceived.
James Judd keeps a firm hand on the structural and motivic tiller and there's no disputing that Ashley Wass is the most stylish, characterful and charismatic of the three soloists to have recorded the work: the way he shapes the spellbinding opening paragraph of the final section ('Triumph', one of Bax's symphonic epilogues in all but name) is sheer magic and betokens a true poet of the keyboard.
The 1949 Concertante, written (again) for Harriet Cohen after she had lost the use of her right hand in a domestic accident, is smaller fry – but it can boast an absolute gem of a slow movement.
Again, the performance is a very persuasive one. A hearty welcome for this conspicuously successful pairing.”

Classic FM Magazine

July 2011


“Wass is a superbly clear, commanding and fluent soloist, while Judd conjures vivid accompaniments from the orchestra.”

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