Bax: November Woods; Sinfonietta; The Garden of Fand; In the Faery Hills

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: November Woods; Sinfonietta; The Garden of Fand; In the Faery Hills
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Vernon Handley
This recording makes a splendid follow-up to Vernon Handley’s set of the complete Bax symphonies: here some of the composer’s most powerful orchestral writing receives utterly committed, full-blooded performance, the complex textures ideally balanced and superbly recorded. The Garden of Fand, in particular, is thrilling, an account both urgent and sumptuous that convinces me, after decades of hesitation, that this really is a masterpiece on a level with Tintagel (Handley’s benchmark performance of that is the coupling for his Seventh Symphony) and November Woods. Quite simply, it’s the best performance of Fand I’ve heard, surpassing even Beecham’s classic version (EMI) in interpretation as it easily outclasses it in sound. David Lloyd-Jones’s recent Naxos account


is very estimable, but Handley has the edge in rhythmic pointing, poetry and quality of sound.


November Woods is as dark and windswept as one could wish, though here Handley does not, for me, altogether banish memories of Adrian Boult’s haunted and haggard Lyrita account. And In the Faery Hills, essentially an extended scherzo, has probably never been better expounded, though this is slighter music in substance. The surprise is the much later Sinfonietta of 1932 (never played until Handley premiered it in 1982). It has, I think, only once been recorded before (by Barry Wordsworth on Marco Polo), and this new version is a finer performance altogether, pointing up the Sibelian echoes and virile energy which make it very close kin to the underrated Fifth Symphony; indeed the piece makes a brilliant pendant to the symphonic cycle. A superb disc for British music fans. Calum MacDonald