Bax: Symphony No. 2; November Woods

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; November Woods
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554093
The evocative tone poems with which Bax began his orchestral career make an excellent introduction to his art. He composed November Woods in 1917, the imagery relating to late autumn in the Chiltern Hills. The results are wonderfully atmospheric, using the large orchestra to colourful and powerful effect. This ‘nature music’ deserves a wider currency, and it is well served here.

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Bax described himself as ‘a brazen Romantic’. The brooding opening of Symphony No. 2 offers ample evidence of this, moving from dark suggestions to a fully scored climax replete with blazing horns. The richly indulgent symphonic style is also well captured, with the emphasis firmly on the heart rather than the head. There’s no question that Bax is an indulgent symphonist, which to the uninitiated can give the impression of longueurs, out of which the dramatic sections restore vitality.

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All this places special demands on the performers and recording engineers. The Scottish orchestra plays splendidly, taking every opportunity offered by the colourful scoring, while David Lloyd-Jones holds the symphony together with skill and imagination. As for the sound, the basic level is on the low side, and without raising the level, the recording seems pallid. So be bold with that volume control. Terry Barfoot