Bax: Piano Sonata No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 4; Water Music; Winter Waters; Country-Tune, O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies

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COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Bax piano works
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 4; Water Music; Winter Waters; Country-Tune, O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies
PERFORMER: Ashley Wass (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557592
Ashley Wass’s survey of Bax’s piano music here arrives at the seethingly turbulent Third Sonata, audibly from the same period as the Second and Third Symphonies. He also plays the much leaner, almost neo-classical Fourth Sonata, its melancholic slow movement based, apparently, on an Irish folksong. Yet the most haunting melody on this disc is the tenderly elegiac strain of Water Music, which Bax arranged from a movement in his ballet The Truth About the Russian Dancers. The other short pieces are slight, except for the dark, haunted Winter Waters of 1915, a powerfully atmospheric vision from the same imaginative impulse as produced Tintagel and November Woods. The late (1945) little set of variations on O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies is a bit of a charmer with its deft, parodic treatment of the carol in different styles.

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Wass plays all this music straight and honestly, with a sure instinct for its idioms, without surrendering to the more self-indulgent aspects of Bax’s chromaticism. If the Third Sonata seems somewhat unstructured and lacking in focus, this is surely due to the composer rather than the pianist. Wass has plenty of power for the big climaxes (with which the sonatas are perhaps over-supplied), but a fine sensitivity of touch and pedalling informs the various works’ episodes of intimate longing and nostalgia. Calum MacDonald