Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Arnold Bax: Concert Valse in Eb for piano

I was listening to the Iris Loveridge edition of Arnold Bax’s piano music the other day. It has long been as favourite recording of mine: in fact I was introduced to this music by the old Lyrita ‘mono’ recordings which I came across back in the early ‘seventies. In amongst the Sonatas and better known pieces is a Concert Valse in E flat which has often struck me as being perfectly enjoyable, although this was not released on the original vinyl album. There has been very little written about this work; however it deserves honourable mention if only for the fact that it is Arnold Bax’s first published piece for piano.

Colin Scott Sutherland has cited a passage in Jessie Henderson Matthay’s The Life and Work of Tobias Matthey about Bax which recalls this work. It is noted that Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer had an ‘especially interesting fellow student in Arnold Bax...’ She suggests that he was highly thought of by Matthay and although was not deemed to be a prodigy, he was seen to have ‘uncanny’ musical gifts. Of greater interest, is the suggestion that at this time Bax did not ‘bear evidence of the great work he was to achieve’. Jessie Matthay notes that one of his earliest productions was ‘A Concert Waltz, which [Tobias] Matthay got Boosey to publish and to which all his [Bax’s] fellow students had to have a shot at’.
The publisher’s copyist’s score is entitled Two Valses, however according to Graham Parlett, there is no trace of ‘physical or documentary’ of the ‘second valse’ suggested by this title. This score was dated Feb 16th 1910, in the composer’s hand. A dedication ‘To Myra Hess, most poetical of pianists ‖ with admiration and sympathy ‖ from A.B.’ was also appended by the composer. The Concert Valse was published by Boosey & Co. in the following year. There are references to a number of performances given by Myra Hess, The premiere was at the Broadwood Rooms in London on 18 March 1910 as a part of a Society of British Composers concert. It was heard again at the Hampstead Conservatoire on 19 April and at the Royal Academy of Music Club and Union on 17 May. Lewis Foreman in his magisterial study of the composer notes that this sequence of performances was ‘crowned ‘by a performance at a dinner in order of Frederick Corder at Blanchard’s Restaurant in Beak Street London on 4 July.
It is certainly not ‘typical’ Bax music – owing much to ‘romantic’ models and perhaps even to the popular: Lewis Foreman has suggested a certain naivety in this piece. Yet it is extremely effective and avoids descent into pure salon music by the sophistication of its harmony and variety of expression. This is a lovely piece and is welcome as part of collection.

Arnold Bax’s Concert Valse in Eb is available on Lyrita REAM3113

No comments: