Bax: Fantasy Sonata for Viola & Harp; Viola Sonata; Legend; Concert Piece

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Koch Schwann Musica Mundi
WORKS: Fantasy Sonata for Viola & Harp; Viola Sonata; Legend; Concert Piece
PERFORMER: Ivo-Jan van der Werff (viola), Simon Harlow (piano), Hugh Webb (harp)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6762-2
Ivo-Jan van der Werff’s Bax survey undoubtedly satisfies, despite one minor caveat. His pure-toned efficiency remains unruffled, even in declamatory works, red in tooth and claw, like the Viola Sonata. Impassioned struggle resonates from every bar in the vintage recording by its dedicatee Lionel Tertis with Bax at the piano, though the 1937 remake by William Primrose and Harriet Cohen (available on Pearl) is noticeably more refined. Baxians rightly cherish the old Revolution LP account from Herbert Downes and Leonard Cassini, but this has yet to reappear on CD, so Van der Werff’s version heads an admittedly small field.

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His performance of the Fantasy Sonata coincides with an equally impressive reading by Gunter Pretzel on the German label Cavalli. Van der Werff’s thoughtful musicianship and fine technique winningly empower his assured, insightful account, but interestingly, harpist Hugh Webb doesn’t arpeggiate the chord sequence opening the third movement, whereas other versions I’ve heard usually do. Bax’s 1929 Legend has been recorded five times already, and despite a ten-second difference in overall timings, Van der Werff’s rapturously expressive performance adds nothing to a fine CBC version from Steven Dann and Bruce Vogt. Finally, Bax’s Concert Piece (1904) receives its world premiere recording here, and Lewis Foreman’s authoritative notes complete this useful package. Michael Jameson