Bax: Symphony No. 4; Nympholept; Overture to a Picaresque Comedy

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WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Nympholept; Overture to a Picaresque Comedy
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555343
Bax saw his Fourth Symphony as his own ‘sea symphony’, inspired by the rugged north-west coast of Scotland where it was completed in 1931. Its hedonistic Romanticism has led some commentators to compare it unfavourably with some of Bax’s other, more concentrated symphonic essays, but, perhaps because the 1983 Bryden Thomson Chandos recording was the first CD I ever bought, I’ve always had a soft spot for it and found Bax’s meanderings less aimless than elsewhere. That Thomson recording with the Ulster Orchestra remains the benchmark. Its sound is absolutely stunning and despite nearly two decades of technical advance Naxos’s new recording can’t quite match it in clarity and fullbodiedness. Nor does the RSNO exhibit quite the security of the Ulster Orchestra in the more exposed string passages, for instance. That said, Lloyd-Jones proves an ardent interpreter of the Symphony, indulging its excesses as well as relishing the delicacies of its often Delian slow movement, derived from an earlier piano Romance for Bax’s mistress Harriet Cohen. The couplings are equally rewarding: the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy played like the English Till Eulenspiegel it’s trying to be, Nympholept evocatively capturing its impressionistic ‘Celtic Twilight’ sound-world. Matthew Rye