Bax: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 3

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Bax
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Laurence Jackson (violin), Ashley Wass (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55754
Bax wrote his First Violin Sonata in the winter of 1909-10 while passionately in love with a Ukrainian girl whom he subsequently, and fruitlessly, followed to Russia. One of the first pieces in which he really found his voice as a composer, it was originally on a very large scale, but in 1915 he discarded the slow movement and fast finale and substituted a scherzo-like central movement and serene, moderate-paced last movement instead, and it’s this form (with subsequent revision) that has been played ever since. Laurence Jackson and Ashley Wass give this virtuoso work a splendid rendition – its resourceful use of a motto-theme and the calm epilogue look forward to the mature symphonies. But they also give us, for the first time on disc, the original second and third movements which, though immature in many respects, contain beautiful and interesting music and show that the work’s expressive trajectory was initially quite different. The much later and tauter Third Sonata (1927), a haunted, atmospheric diptych from Bax’s strongest period, completes a fascinating disc.

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The First Sonata was recorded by Erich Gruenberg and John McCabe for Chandos in 1989; the Third is available in a fine reading by Robert Gibbs and Mary Mei-Loc Wu on ASV. There is little to choose between these accounts in ardour and bravura, but Naxos certainly has the best recording, while Jackson and Wass offer the only version of the rejected movements (which are well worth hearing) and the only handy coupling of Sonatas 1 and 2, so I’m inclined to award them the benchmark status. Calum MacDonald