Bax: Quintet for Harp & Strings; Elegiac Trio; Fantasy Sonata; Sonata for Flute & Harp

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Quintet for Harp & Strings; Elegiac Trio; Fantasy Sonata; Sonata for Flute & Harp
PERFORMER: Mobius
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554507
Some of the best of Bax is here. In these atmospheric pieces he was able to throw off the fetters of inherited symphonic forms and allow his Celtic fantasy to pursue its own improvisatory course. Yes, there are times when he meanders, but always pleasantly. The melodic writing is free and fertile, and there’s none of the inflated rhetoric that spoils some of the later symphonies. Bax’s harp writing is especially poetic – except, surprisingly, in the Quintet (musically strong, but with the harp rarely doing more than accompany the strings). Best of all is the short, moody Elegiac Trio, scored for the same combination as Debussy’s rather better-known Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, but apparently completed before the Debussy had even been heard, let alone published. The Fantasy Sonata, for harp and viola, is remarkable for the way it holds the attention for well over 20 minutes – not easy with two such reticent instruments. Of course that’s a tribute to the performers as much as the composer; the six musicians of Mobius play this music with feeling, imagination and energy – proof that harp music doesn’t have to be all elfin and willowy. The recordings are generally good, though perhaps a bit too close in the Fantasy Sonata. Stephen Johnson

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