Monday, 8 November 2010

Arnold Bax: Symphony No 2 – review of the first performance in Boston

Arnold Bax’s Second Symphony (GP276) was completed in 1926: it had occupied the composer for two years. As the reviewer in the New York Times points out this work was dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky. The first two performances were given on 13th and 14th December 1929. The Symphony is in three movements. The first performance in the United kingdom was at the Queen’s Hall, London on 20th May 1930 The Symphony is in three movements.
The new symphony by Arnold Bax, written in two keys, E minor and C major, was performed for the first time anywhere on Dec. 13 in Boston by the symphony orchestra, under the direction of Serge Koussevitsky. Although it was written in 1924-25, the composer reserved the production for Mr. Koussevitsky, to whom the work is dedicated.
The composer has said that “there is absolutely no communicable programme associated with the music, which is entirely, severely ‘absolute’ as a classical work.”
“When the symphonic pomes by Bax were played by this orchestra,” says Philip Hale in The Boston Herald. “The charge of occasional diffuseness, if not vagueness, was urged against him, while full justice was done to the fine, poetic qualities. It might have been said that he was then lulled at too great length by the enchanting airs he heard In the Faery Hills and in The Garden of Fand. In this symphony even more than in his first symphony played two years ago, there is still, especially in the second movement, the Celtic feeling that is characteristic of many of his works; there are themes, there are harmonies of tender, wistful beauty, not free from a pleasing melancholy, but these pages only relieve and enhance the heroic character of the work as a whole, the defiant pages or those of doubt and questioning until there is at the end submission to the inevitable, if not lasting peace. These final pages, artfully simple, leading to silence, are among the most eloquent and impressive in the symphony.
“That the audience realises the strength and the beauty, the originality of invention and expression was shown by the manner in which the symphony was received. Seldom, if ever, has the first performance of a new symphony been so heartily and honestly applauded.”
New York Times December 29 1929 (with minor edits)

Discography
Arnold Bax Symphony No. 2
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Myer Fredman. SRCD 233
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bryden Thomson. CHAN 8493
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones. Naxos 8.554093;
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley. Chandos CHAN 10122 (boxed set of complete symphonies).

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