Bax: Symphony No. 6; Into the Twilight; Summer Music

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Into the Twilight; Summer Music
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish NO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557144
Strange how Bax still polarises opinions. His fans insist that he is one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century; his detractors dismiss him as a wallowing, sentimental rhapsodiser, incapable of sustaining a cogent argument. I think both sides protest too much. Yes, you can sometimes end up wondering where Bax thinks he’s going (if anywhere), and the basic musical material isn’t always very distinguished – both reservations apply to the ‘symphonic picture’ Into the Twilight, the loose-limbed offshoot of an abandoned operatic project. But beside that you have the Sixth Symphony: full of the kind of sumptuous orchestral fantasy that makes the best works so attractive, but with a sustained strength of purpose unlike any of the other symphonies. David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra balance those two crucial sides of this work better than in any other version I’ve heard. Perhaps Bryden Thomson on Chandos takes the more obviously loving approach, but his version is also proof that you can love this music too much. By keeping at least one hand on the reins, Lloyd-Jones makes a compelling case for Bax as a real symphonist – capable of dreaming without letting himself get fatally distracted. The recording has a slight hardness of tone, but for balanced clarity it beats the Chandos by a fair margin. There’s just one tiny puzzle: Lloyd-Jones tells us he removed a tambourine part in the slow movement (track 2) for perfectly sound editorial reasons. So why, in this recording, is it still there? Stephen Johnson