Bax: Piano Sonata in E flat; Piano Sonata No. 2; Legend

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LABELS: Continuum
WORKS: Piano Sonata in E flat; Piano Sonata No. 2; Legend
PERFORMER: John McCabe (piano)
The pianist John McCabe is a tireless champion of British music, often of limited appeal. With the rise of the small label, this music can be made available. But I doubt whether this new recording of Bax piano works is likely to herald greatly increased interest. Bax’s virtuosity as a young pianist was legendary and his ability to play orchestral scores as though written for the piano influenced several of his works, which amount virtually to orchestral music manqué. Such was the E flat Piano Sonata dating from 1921, which Bax almost immediately set about orchestrating to become his Symphony No. 1. Following the symphony’s first performance (with an entirely new slow movement), the original piano sonata was forgotten and subsequently not performed again until 1983. Piano Sonata No. 2 is in seven movements and seems to have had some programmatic basis. Legend was written for an Australian pianist, John Simons, who had particularly impressed Bax in performances of his work in 1935. However, the manuscriptgot into the hands of the pianist Harriet Cohen, who did not pass it on, and it was not until 1969, two years after her death, that Simons finally performed the work. McCabe’s recording suffers from a muddy sound that merely serves to emphasise the thickness in the writing rather than any brilliance. Annette Morreau