Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Sir Arnold Bax: Symphonic Variations on Naxos

Many years ago I bought an old Revolution LP of the Bax Symphonic Variations, played by Joyce Hatto with the Guilford Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. I must confess that I was never particularly happy with this disc- there seemed to be something wrong with the sound quality – so I never really got to know this work until the Margaret Fingerhut recording made in 1999 on the Chandos label. I was seriously impressed with this work and felt that it was one of the high-points of British neo-romantic music. So I was delighted to find that Naxos have recently released a new recording of this work with Ashley Wass and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd. It is an excellent performance and to my mind makes an interesting stablemate to the Chandos version.
Ian Lace has provided a fine review of this work on MusicWeb International –and I agree with most of what he says. However, I am not convinced that Wass/Judd actually supersedes the Fingerhut/Thomson disc...
Lace begins his interview by insisting that “Bax’s epic Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra equals the Brahms piano concertos in length" And further states that “his powerful and poetic reading by Wass and Judd reveals more [nuances?] and assists in a deeper appreciation of this undervalued romantic work"
He proceeds to give a fine account of the work's history, including a discussion of the key players in its genesis. Interestingly he reminds the listener that Harriet Cohen, the works dedicatee, had a possessive attitude towards the piece. He believes that this factor contributed to its long and unjustified neglect.
Ian Lace then gives a detailed and useful analysis of the piece which is certainly most helpful to the interested listener. The distilation of this commentary is that the Symphonic Variations is one long love poem.
After a brief notice of the other work on the CD – the Concertante for Piano (Left Hand) and Orchestra, Lace concludes his review by declaring that “this CD is certain to figure amongst my choice of recordings for 2009”.

Please read Ian Lace’s superb review on MusicWeb International

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