Bax: Symphony No. 3; The Happy Forest

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; The Happy Forest
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553608
How often is Bax’s best-known symphony heard in our concert halls these days? And why not more often, one asks after listening to this splendid and sympathetic interpretation under David Lloyd-Jones (the third of his Bax cycle with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra), as sympathetic as the famous Barbirolli recording which came out in 1944?

Advertisement

The Third Symphony reflects the turbulence of Bax’s emotional life in the late Twenties as well as the stormy landscape of the west coast of Scotland where much of it was written. In three movements, it has a conciseness which one does not normally associate with Bax and a command of tone-colour that one certainly does. The lugubrious bassoon solo with which the symphony begins is eloquently played by the RSNO’s principal, while other woodwind solos are taken with equal artistry. The horn and trumpet solos in the second movement are beautifully phrased. The symphony’s finest passage, its tranquil yet elegiac epilogue, with oboe and clarinet lamenting over the strings’ accompaniment, is rightly the climax of Lloyd-Jones’s well-judged interpretation, notable for its resistance to the temptation of dawdling tempi.

Advertisement

The Happy Forest was written in 1914, but not fully scored until 1921. Although it has a programme, based on a prose-poem by Herbert Farjeon, it is effectively a scherzo for orchestra and shows the distinctive Bax sound at its most brilliant and alluring. Michael Kennedy