Bax: The Symphonies (5CD)

Current Stock:
BBC Philharmonic, Vernon Handley

"This Bax symphony cycle comes under the baton of the composer's doughtiest champion, and superlatives are in order. Even seasoned Baxians will be startled by the propulsive vigour and sinewy strength of these performances.
In its uncompromising thrust and snarling tragedy, Handley's account of the First Symphony packs an almighty punch, but also quarries great detail from Bax's darkly opulent orchestration. In the closing pages the motto theme's sanguine tread is soon snuffed out, as the shredded nerve-ends of this music are exposed as never before. The wild and brooding Second generates less heady sensuality than either the Thomson or Myer Fredman's pioneering Lyrita version, but there's ample compensation in the chaste beauty and enviable authority of Handley's conception. Scrupulous attention is paid to thematic unity and the many contrapuntal and harmonic felicities that bind together the progress of this extraordinary canvas. The BBC Philharmonic respond with such eager application that it's easy to forgive some slight loss of composure in the build-up to the cataclysmic pinnacle. There can be no reservations about the Third, an interpretation that's by far the finest since Barbirolli's 1943-4 world première recording with the Hallé. Bax's iridescent textures shimmer and glow, bass lines stalk with reassuring logic and solidity, and these exemplary artists distil all the poetry and mystery in the ravishing slow movement and epilogue. Deeply moving is Handley's tender, unforced handling of the first movement's Lento moderato secondary material. Handley's previous recording of the Fourth is comprehensively outflanked by this bracing remake. If you've ever regarded the Fourth as something of a loose-limbed interloper in the Bax canon, this will make you think again, such is the muscular rigour Handley locates in this lovable creation. At the same time, there's playful affection, rhythmic bite and pagan splendour of both outer movements. Revelations abound, too, in the Fifth. Handley plots a superbly inevitable course through the first movement. At the start of the slow movement the glinting brilliance and sheen of the orchestral playing take the breath away, as does the richness of the lower strings in the first subject. The finale is stunning, its whirlwind Allegro a veritable bevy of cackling demons. The bass ostinato that launches the Sixth picks up where the epilogue of the Fifth left off. A taut course is steered through this stormy first movement, though in some ways Norman Del Mar's recording got closer still to the essence of Bax's driven inspiration. The succeeding Lento has a gentle radiance that's very affecting. However, it's in the innovatory finale where Handley pulls ahead of the competition, cannily keeping some power in reserve, and locating a transcendental wonder in the epilogue. Handley's Seventh is wonderfully wise and characterful music-making, the first movement in particular sounding for all the world as if it was set down in a single take. There's bags of temperament about the performance, as well as an entrancing freedom, flexibility and purposefulness that proclaim an intimate knowledge of and total trust in the composer's intentions. The BBC Philharmonic respond with unflagging spirit and tremendous body of tone. A majestic Tintagel and rollicking account of the 1936 Rogue's Comedy Overture complete the feast. Disc 5 houses an hour-long conversation about Bax the symphonist between the conductor and Andrew McGregor. Stephen Rinker's engineering does fabulous justice to Bax's imaginative and individual orchestration, particularly towards the lower end of the spectrum. The set is magnificent; its insights copious." - Gramophone Classical Music Guide

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Symphony No. 1 in E-Flat Major
1 I. Allegro moderato e feroce
2 II. Lento solenne
3 III. Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non trop

Symphony No. 3
4 I. Lento moderato - Allegro moderato - Allegro fer
5 II. Lento
6 III. Moderato - Epilogue: Poco lento



Symphony No. 2 in E Minor and C Major
1 I. Molto moderato - Allegro moderato
2 II. Andante
3 III. Poco largamente - Allegro feroce - Molto larg

Symphony No. 4
4 I. Allegro moderato
5 II. Lento moderato
6 III. Allegro



Symphony No. 5
1 I. Poco lento - Allegro con fuoco
2 II. Poco lento
3 III. Poco moderato

Symphony No. 6
4 I. Moderato - Allegro con fuoco
5 II. Lento, molto espressivo
6 III. Introduction - Scherzo and Trio - Epilogue



Rogue's Comedy Overture
1 Rogue's Comedy Overture

2 Tintagel

Symphony No. 7
3 I. Allegro
4 II. Lento - In Legendary Mood - Tempo I
5 III. Theme and Variations: Allegro - Andante - Viv



Interview with Vernon Handley by Andrew McGregor
1 Introduction
2 Bax and Vaughan Williams
3 Bax and his musical influences
4 on Symphony No. 1
5 on Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
6 on Symphony No. 4
7 on Symphony No. 5
8 on Symphony No. 6
9 on Symphony No. 7
10 Epilogue

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Classical Music Collector

"Not for nothing were the contents of this box set awarded Gramophone Magazine Awards galore, and a Penguin Rosette. Vernon Handley is probably Bax’s single most effective advocate of recent years, and his performances of all seven symphonies should be on the shelf of any serious lover of English music. And, no, Bax was not a Celt; he just wished he was. Having a private income, Bax was able to produce a very large and accomplished body of work, including symphonic poems, multiple works for piano and orchestra, violin and cello concertos, and much chamber and piano music, but the core of his work are the seven symphonies. Although his earlier works retain the influence of Wagner and Richard Strauss, the mature music is much more kin to Rachmaninov and Sibelius: expansive, melancholy, and craggy. As an aperitif, the symphonic poem Tintagel is also included; it happily represents Bax’s more fantastical Arthurian leanings. On this box’s first appearance in 2010, a Gramophone reviewer commented: “this Bax symphony cycle comes under the baton of the composer's doughtiest champion, and superlatives are in order. Even seasoned Baxians will be startled by the propulsive vigour and sinewy strength of these performances.” This is one to grab while you still can." - Chris Dench