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Bax: Symphony No. 5; The Tale the Pine Trees Knew

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; The Tale the Pine Trees Knew
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554509
Another splendid performance in David Lloyd-Jones’s Bax cycle with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The Fifth Symphony, like Vaughan Williams’s, is dedicated to Sibelius. Composed in 1931-2, it is not so much influenced by the Finnish master as in thrall to him. The principal theme of the first of the three movements is half-brother to one in the Fifth Symphony, the woodwind writing is distinctly Sibelian and the symphony generally conforms to a Sibelian tautness of construction. But there is a dearth of the melodic invention which makes Bax’s other symphonies so attractive in spite of structural weaknesses and a tendency to rhapsodise. The Fifth’s slow movement is broodingly impressive, but the finale is weak. Lloyd-Jones, as always, presents the music in its most favourable light, with a strong grip on form and a sympathetic response to Bax’s colourful orchestration even when, as here, it is muted.

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The tone poem The Tale the Pine Trees Knew was completed while Bax was working on the Symphony and they share a similar mood and a certain drabness of texture. It is not one of Bax’s best tone poems and despite its dedication to Barbirolli, it is perhaps significant that although he included it in his first New York Philharmonic programme, he hardly ever conducted it again and never recorded it. Michael Kennedy