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Bax - Tone Poems Volume 2
For Bax there were several periods of intense creativity when he committed to paper a variety of works in the form of piano scores, and orchestrated them when required. Many of the tone poems performed here were conceived in this fashion, including Red Autumn, which here receives its premiere recording. Originally a solo piano piece, it was then arranged for two pianos by Bax himself. In 2006 the Sir Arnold Bax Trust commissioned Graham Parlett to orchestrate the work in Bax’s early period style specifically for this recording. Heard in its orchestral dress it immediately reveals its family resemblance to the tone poems Nympholept and November Woods, composed round the same time.
Vernon Handley brings together for the first time three orchestral movements to which the collective title ‘Three Northern Ballads’ has been given. They date from the late 1920s and early 1930s, breathe much the same atmosphere, and Handley is keen to promote them as forming a unified, almost symphonic, whole. The first, which Bax composed and gave the name ‘Northern Ballad’ in 1927, was followed by a second Ballad, orchestrated in 1931. The third, formally entitled Prelude for a Solemn Occasion, appears to evoke a Sibelian musical landscape, and occupies the same world as the composer’s Sixth Symphony, which followed almost immediately. When Bax orchestrated the third piece he was taking his usual winter sojourn at Morar, Inverness-shire, and in a letter to a friend wrote, ‘It suggests an atmosphere of the dark north and perhaps dark happenings among the mists’. The nature painting in the work certainly calls to mind the wilds of Scotland.
Joining this quasi-symphonic work, in addition to Red Autumn, are three further early tone poems. Into the Twilight dates from Bax’s first intensive period of composition, the years immediately preceding World War I, and originated as the prelude to a planned Irish opera, Deirdre. It received only one performance during Bax’s lifetime, in 1909, conducted by Thomas Beecham. Nympholept which followed was the work in which Bax fully achieved the impressionistic technique of his first maturity. It suggests the pagan natural world in which Bax was so deeply interested. The Happy Forest, follows a pastoral short story by Herbert Farjeon, and is an Arcadian evocation much like Nympholept. It was first performed in 1923 under Eugene Goossens, its dedicatee.
“The excellent Chandos series pairing the former continues with seven richly nuanced, nimbly danced and sensitively phrased performances of [the] tone poems...The BBC Philharmonic revels in Bax's subtle instrumental variety - the nervous harp in Into the Twilight, the gurgling bass-clarinet in Nympholept that Handley summons like a snake-charmer. A sense of magic pervades much of the disc. Few conductors have found so much in Bax before, but many will in future.” The Times, 19th April 2008 ****
“Vernon Handley (still no
knighthood?) returns to
his exploration of the Bax
tone-poems with this
collection. Is it me, or are
the sounds he can draw
from orchestras ever
more resplendent? It is
almost as though he
acquires more vigour
with the passing years
and the result here is a
disc that bristles with
energy and excitement.
Marvellous.” Gramophone Magazine
“Vernon Handley's revelatory Bax odyssey for Chandos comes up trumps once again with this generous feast.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“Immediately the most recommendable versions in every case.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2008 *****
“Vernon Handley's revelatory Bax odyssey for Chandos comes up trumps once again with this generous feast spanning a quarter of a century from the enchanted Donegal glens of the youthful Into the Twilight (1908) to the rugged, wintry seascape of the Second Northern Ballad, completed in 1934. The latter is flanked by its roistering and plaintive predecessor and the darkly opulent Prelude for a Solemn Occasion (also known as Northern Ballad No 3). Whether Bax ever envisaged them as a self-contained entity is pure conjecture but, when presented with such swaggering commitment, they do comprise a deeply stirring and evocative sequence.
Elsewhere, Into the Twilight receives ideally radiant, heartfelt treatment – and you'll wait a lifetime to hear the ecstatic Nympholept better done. The Happy Forest raises the bar in its lightness of touch, iridescent glow and twinkling fun.
The gale-tossed Red Autumn (more familiar in its two-piano garb) is clad in a remarkably idiomatic new orchestration by Graham Parlett.
So, gloriously assured music-making from first measure to last, and it's a relief to be able to report that Chandos's spectacularly ample and informative sound has all the natural bloom and crucial mid-range warmth that the companion disc (above) lacked. An unmissable treat.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Boult conducts Bax
“Sir Adrian was a consistent champion of the composer and an eloquent interpreter of this appealing music” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition
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Celebrating 50 Years Devoted To British Music - Set 1
The Magic Island (1952)
English Dances, Set 2, Op. 33
Bach, J S:
Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV565
Orch. Sir Henry Wood
Northern Ballad No. 1
Overture to Italian Comedy
Serenade for Strings, Op. 12
Adam Zero - Suite
Suite for Strings, H 93
Cello Concerto (2nd Movement)
A Shropshire Lad - Rhapsody
From Meadow to Mayfair Suite
Valse de la reine from Four Characteristic Waltzes, Op. 22
Jabez and the Devil – Suite from the Ballet
The Walk to the Paradise Garden
Eclogue, Op. 10
Three Mantras Op.61b: No.2 Mantra Of Bliss
Gibbs, C A:
Fancy Dress, dance suite, Op. 82
Horn Concerto, Op. 58
One Morning in Spring - sketch for orchestra
Welsh Dances, Set 2, Op. 64
Japanese Suite, Op. 33
Variations on an Hungarian Air
The Forgotten Rite - Prelude
Caprice in E, Op. 22
“Anyone interested in British music...will find something of interest.” The Guardian, 31st December 2009 ****
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