WORKS: Nonet; Oboe Quintet; Elegiac Trio; Clarinet Sonata; Harp Quintet
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66807 DDD
Arnold Bax is best known for his orchestral music, his symphonies in particular, but in truth his output ranged across practically all the main forms, with the exception of opera. This disc, which adds some fine music to the catalogue, confirms the importance of chamber music at every stage of Bax’s career.
The performances, by one of the world’s leading chamber music groups, certainly do the music justice. The earliest piece is the Elegiac Trio (1916), which was practically contemporary with Debussy’s Sonata for the same combination of flute, viola and harp. A memorial to those who died in Ireland’s Easter Rising, its tenderness is beautifully captured.
The Harp Quintet (1919) ranges across a wider emotional spectrum, mainly through its strikingly contrasted tempi, and the recording allows the subtle dynamic shadings to make their effect. The Oboe Quintet (1922) brings a pastoral flavour, but tinged with Bax’s favoured Irish imageries.
The Nonet (1928-30) shares the contemporary Third Symphony’s rhythmic obsessiveness, and the recording brings a special concentration to the quiet passages, while the Clarinet Sonata (1934) has great assurance, with Michael Collins’s mellifluous tone suiting the music well. This collection serves Bax admirably, and contains some real discoveries. Terry Barfoot