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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sir Arnold Bax in Modo Feroce, October 5, 2000
By 
Thomas F. Bertonneau (Oswego, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand (Audio CD)
To understand the savagery reflected in the first two symphonies (of seven altogether) by Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), one must grasp Bax's intense involvement in Ireland, where he first traveled in his early twenties and which he regarded as his second home - spiritually, indeed, as his first home. So profoundly did Bax's Irish sympathies run that he became involved (socially and philosophically, if not politically) with the insurrectionists; in the fighting of Easter 1916 and in the executions that followed, then, Bax lost acquaintances and friends. The First Symphony (1922) in E-Flat began life as a piano sonata, until Bax's lover Harriet Cohen told him that the music was too big for the limited keyboard medium and demanded orchestral fulfillment. Bax then cast his rage and sadness over the Dublin tragedy into the larger form. The score that resulted represents Bax at the peak of his modernistic tendency, incorporating dense, often bi-tonal harmonies, and driving martial rhythms reminiscent of those employed by Stravinsky in "Le sacre du printemps." This symphony has been recorded twice before: Under Myer Fredman on Lyrita in the early 1970s and under Bryden Thomson on Chandos in the early 1980s. The new recording comes as part of a Bax series on Naxos under David Lloyd-Jones with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. How does Lloyd-Jones stack up against his precursors? Fredman's reading with the London Philharmonic remains impressive, effectively alternating the First Movement's "feroce" passages with its quieter, grief-stricken ones. The Philharmonic brass really growl and snarl. Lloyd-Jones and his Scots orchestra certainly match Fredman for intensity in the fierce moments and tenderness in the quiet ones and have the advantage of clearer sound; and their final cry of grief has somewhat more bite than Fredman's. Bax describes the mood of the Second Movement as "Lento," which, given the ubiquitous tension in the music, is perhaps a form of irony. Thomson's fanfares (about three minutes in) are the richest; his slowest of all tempi among the three give the movement grandeur at the expense of some nervous tightness. Lloyd-Jones, like Fredman, hurries the music, perhaps a shade too much. But this is a matter of taste, after all. In the Finale, Lloyd-Jones comes in timing-wise right between Fredman and Thomson. It is Thomson, finally, who has the most expansive sense of Bax's First; Lloyd-Jones the most driven. So few conductors have taken up the cause of this great (I would say very great) composer, that there is plenty of room for differences of approach. At its low cost, the Lloyd-Jones vesion of Bax's E-Flat symphony is an excellent introduction to the music. We get two tone-poems, "In the Faery Hills" and "The Garden of Fand," as companions to the symphony.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb release, January 4, 2010
This review is from: Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand (Audio CD)
This was the auspicious first installment in Naxos's celebrated cycle of the symphonies of Arnold Bax. In fact, "auspicious" is too weak - "magnificent" seems more apt. First of all, Bax's first symphony is among his best, and a masterly achievement of dazzling colors, unrelenting, ruthless power, magic tone-painting and atmosphere it is. It is vibrant score with not a dull moment, several wonderful ideas and stunningly powerful climaxes (not only the gong crash in the second movement, though it is a good example), strident and troubled.

Lloyd-Jones's approach is intelligent and purposeful, shaping a clear trajectory and creating a powerful forward momentum. And the performances he elicits from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are no less commendable; fiery and fierce, muscular and with color, spirit and fire. In fact, I admit that I wasn't previously aware that their string section could produce such deep, opulent, full textures (even rarefied, in several passages), the woodwinds are delectable and the brass playing is red-blooded and full of force (if the playing is a little raspingly raw and relentless that is more due to the music than to the interpretations I think). This is truly stirring, even gripping, playing - I haven't heard the much recommended Handley cycle, I admit, but taken by itself (or compared to e.g. Thomson), this performance is scintillating.

The wonderful symphonic poems that fill out the disc are also brilliantly dispatched, with much alluring magic, although a touch more depth in the colors could be imagined. I'm unable to determine whether I prefer Lloyd-Jones's superbly paced versions or Thomson's even more enthrallingly colorful versions, but in any case the performances at hand are really, really convincing. Sound quality is well-balanced and with lots of perspective. Overall, then, this is a very strongly recommended release.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious challenger to the fine Handley readings on Chandos, March 1, 2013
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This review is from: Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand (Audio CD)
This disc, very well recorded in 1996, is part of the series of Bax symphony recordings made by Naxos with these forces. The Scottish orchestra was brought right up to international standards by Jarvi and was recorded to good effect in those days by Chandos. Now the baton has been taken up by Naxos and it is a great pleasure to report that those very high orchestral standards have certainly been maintained. David Lloyd-Jones has created an enviable international reputation as a conductor of note so this series appears to have some exciting basic ingredients to offer.

The two poems, In the Faery Hills and The Garden of Fand are both works inspired by Bax's close identification with all things Irish. The symphony itself started life as an intended piano sonata but hugely outgrew that medium and thus became a symphony in greatly expanded form. It is cast in three movements and, although very lyrical in conception, it could be generally described as having significant elements of anger combined with sorrow. Although Bax did not clarify his thoughts in detail it is generally agreed that the symphony, completed in 1921-2, was strongly representative of his responses to the recently completed World War and the Irish Easter Rising of 1916. The anger he felt is implied in the opening Allegro moderato e feroce and the following Lento solenne. Continuing the theme of strife, the symphony concludes with Tempo di marcia trionfale.

The performances on this disc are significantly more driven than the Bryden Thompson set and quite a bit more than those of Handley. The Garden of Fand is also far better recorded and played than that in the respected but historic version by Barbirolli. This extra degree of power, forward drive and expressive bite is totally appropriate to the implied subject matter of the symphony in particular. At the same time Jones makes sure that the more delicate moments, such as are to be found in the two tone poems, are given appropriate light and delicate handling.

The disc further scores over Handley on Chandos by being more generously filled. Handley's versions are best purchased in the boxed symphonies with the majority of tone poems being collected on supplementary single discs. The extra material will be included as part of the ongoing series of symphony releases on Naxos which many will find more attractive as programming.

To conclude I would suggest that this set by Lloyd-Jones will be one to watch. Certainly this particular disc is well worth its moderate asking price and is arguably the best available at present regardless of price. As such it warrants serious consideration by all potential purchasers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance of Bax, November 19, 2009
By 
Hayward H. Siegel (East Meadow, New York United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand (Audio CD)
It is too bad that Bax's music is not performed more often. His music creates images, in sound, similar to what the Impressionist artists created on canvas. This recording begins with two beautifully orchestrated tone poems. In the Faery Hills has many Celtic themes, and The Garden of Fand describes the sea. If you close your eyes, you will feel that you are present in the scene, which is the subject of the tone poem. Bax's Symphony No. 1 is, like the 2 tone poems, scored for a large orchestra. It is very dramatic and sometimes quite dark sounding. The 1st movement sets a mood of foreboding, the 2nd movement sets a mood of ominousness, and the 3rd movement starts out tumultuous, then sets a slightly brighter mood, but quickly changes to a mood of resignation to fate. The Symphony ends in a somber mood, portraying a sense of courage to face reality, come what may. This Symphony will not leave you singing "Don't worry, be happy.". There is excellent orchestration throughout the Symphony. I was impressed by the use of lower register and bass instruments, to set the moods. Being a former bassoon player(in high school), I was thrilled to hear double reed woodwinds often, most especially, the heckelphone, for a few notes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bax Collection of Orchestral Works, May 7, 2010
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This review is from: Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand (Audio CD)
On a chance one day, I was traveling and listening to my local PBS FM station They played a piece by Arnold Bax. I have a fairly extensive classical CD collection, but I had never heard of Bax. I loved the piece. I chatted with a knowledgeable friend and he was quite enthusiastic about Bax and recommended several pieces. I decided to order all 7 of Bax's Symphonies through Amazon. The "filler" on the CDs are other pieces, tone poems, etc., by Bax, and I think they are all fantastic. I can hear influences of Debussy and Sibelius, both of whom I'm quite fond. I would highly recommend all of the CDs.
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