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Bax: Symphony No. 1 / In the Faery Hills / The Garden of Fand

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, June 9, 1998
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Product Details

  • Conductor: Lloyd-Jones
  • Composer: Bax
  • Audio CD (June 9, 1998)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0000060CE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,326 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Thomas F. Bertonneau on October 5, 2000
Format: 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.Read more ›
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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