Sunday, 14 November 2010

Arnold Bax: Symphony No.2 review of the first British performance.

I recently posted the New York Times review of the first performance of Arnold Bax’s Second Symphony in Boston, USA. The first British performance on 20th May 1930 seems to have been a mixed affair. Not so much from the point of view of the music, but the largely empty concert hall where it was given.Debonair Eugene Goossens triumphed at the Queen’s Hall yesterday afternoon with a ‘nameless’ orchestra of 110 performers [of] magnificent quality and unusually superb balance.
There were slightly more than 110 people sitting in the grand circle; but there looked to be fewer. Row upon row of empty chairs greeted one of Britain’s most brilliant young musicians. Although seats at Covent Garden are now at an exorbitant premium and although Goossens’ concerts in New York are packed to the doors, yesterday’s event proved one of the tragedies of the greatest orchestral glut that London has ever known.
Yet Goossens proved a remarkable point: that English orchestral players only need the proper sort of inspiration to produce brilliant results. Some of them were B.B.C men, others from the London Symphony, and most from the Royal Philharmonic orchestras. They had never played as a unit before.
And the applause among the performers themselves was almost greater than that in the distressingly small audience!
Brahms' riotous Academic Festival Overture was given with enthusiasm, and followed by the first performance of Arnold Bax’s Symphony No.2 [in the United Kingdom] This interesting but inconsistent work is more finely wrought than the Bax Symphony No.1, but much more vital than No.3, which has been heard recently.
It shows Bax’s strong allegiance to the Russian orchestral principles, with the fullest possible exploitation of orchestral colour, even to the grand organ. The brass playing –and writing- whipped the symphony up to a pitch of ferocious, even barbaric intensity.
The sparkling performance of De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat concluded the programme. Eugene Goossens sin returning to America in the autumn.
The Daily Express 21 May 1930 (with minor edits)

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