ALBUM TITLE: Bax
WORKS: Two Russian Tone Poems; What the Minstrel Told Us; The Princess’s Rose Garden; A Mountain Mood
PERFORMER: Ashley Wass (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557769
Volume 3 of Ashley Wass’s useful survey of Bax’s piano music concentrates not on the big sonatas but some of his many miniatures – not all of them so miniature, either. What the Minstrel Told Us is an extended, poetic set of variations, while the two Russian Tone Poems of 1912, in which Bax proves how expertly he could handle the ‘Russian nationalist’ idiom, present us with an expansive oriental nocturne and a sturdy yet scintillating Gopak. In fact, it’s arguable Bax was not a natural miniaturist: his finest music is to be found in the tone-poems and symphonies, and though a piece like the popular Mediterranean is deftly tailored to its three-minute span,
the Paean, at similar duration, sounds more like a sketch for the orchestral piece it later became.
Mostly written for or premiered by Harriet Cohen, the majority of these pieces presupposes a pianist of complete technical command and some sympathy with what is often a rather elusive idiom. One seldom feels in the presence of a great piano composer here (the Debussy-Ravel reminiscences in What the Minstrel Told Us rather point this up) – instead, an intermittently-great composer who happened to entrust some highly characteristic ideas to the piano. On that level Wass, recorded in a pleasantly warm ambience, certainly does the music proud. Calum MacDonald