Bax: Four Orchestral Pieces; Phantasy for viola and orchestra; Overture, Elegy and Rondo

COMPOSERS: Bax
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Bax: Four Orchestral Pieces; Phantasy for viola and orchestra; Overture, Elegy and Rondo
WORKS: Four Orchestral Pieces; Phantasy for viola and orchestra; Overture, Elegy and Rondo
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/ Sir Andrew Davis

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Even in such well-trodden corridors of English music as Bax completism, fascinating surprises still turn up. This is the first recording of the Four Orchestral Pieces of 1913, which should really have been called something like Out of Ireland – the pre-Easter Rising Ireland that enthralled the younger Bax, and inspired this beautifully imaginative sequence. ‘From the Mountains of Home’, for strings and harp, is a strikingly intense statement; and as Lewis Foreman’s note suggests, the whirling virtuosity of ‘The Dance of Wild Irravel’ does indeed prefigure Ravel’s similar tour de force in La valse several years later.

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The leaner sound world of Bax’s between-the-wars manner is then explored in the Phantasy (premiered by Lionel Tertis in 1921 as a viola concerto, which it genuinely is: for some reason Bax then changed the title). And the Overture, Elegy and Rondo of 1927 finds the self-proclaimed ‘brazen Romantic’ composer nonetheless engaging impressively with the neo-classical mood of the times. Philip Dukes delivers the Phantasy’s solo part with a forthright energy that seems to thwart loveliness of tone. In every other department these performances could hardly be finer. The orchestral playing is vivid and precise, as is the recorded sound; and Davis’s conducting is a masterclass in how to conjure atmosphere. Malcolm Hayes