Bax Violin Sonatas

0 of 5 stars

Sonata No.1 in E for Violin and Piano
Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano
Original second and third movements of Sonata No.1

Laurence Jackson (violin) & Ashley Wass (piano)

Recorded in December 2004 & December 2005 in Potton Hall, Suffolk

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.557540
Duration: 76 minutes

The Arnold Bax renaissance, for which Naxos (along with Chandos) must take considerable plaudits continues with this very desirable release.

The opening of Sonata No.1, a large-scale three-movement work, could pass as French, and the quicksilver, almost volatile changes of mood point to Bag’s quixotic sense of fantasy, and not forgetting his fondness for dance rhythms and languorous (Irish-tinted) folksong-melodies. This is lovely and affecting music, full of atmosphere and fragrance, of emotion and strong ideas, expansively and rhapsodically constructed. The second movement is a devilish scherzo, terrifically exciting and impulsive, with a tender, rather exotic episode at the movement’s mid-point. The finale, as does that of Elgar’s contemporaneous Second Symphony, begins rather nonchalantly (the sub-marking is ‘Smooth and Serene’); Bax’s quiet rapture (reminding of Szymanowski) burgeons into more ecstatic territory before sinking away, unrequited.

Lewis Foreman traces the inspiration of this music in his booklet note – suffice it to say that “Bax’s passion for a Ukrainian girl” had some influence! Begun in 1909 (when said lady surfaced in Hampstead), the first movement was ready in February 1910 and the remaining ones came soon after. Bax had doubts about the last two and in 1915 wrote brand-new movements; further revisions followed in 1920 and 1945.

Rather interestingly this recording gives an opportunity to hear the original second and third movements. Both are generous in length (nearly 12 minutes each here). The second movement, marked ‘Slow and sombre’ has lighter moods than might be supposed – and what a sea-change on Bax’s part to replace it with a sinister scherzo (although his decision in terms of the work overall is understandable) – while the original finale is a vital and songful movement that, if conventional, is rather likeable. The sonata, as revised, is altogether more personal, but it’s certainly interesting to hear Bax’s first conception.

Sonata No.3 (1927) is a more concise affair: two similar-length movements lasting 20 minutes. First performed by Emil Telmányi (Nielsen’s son-in-law) with Bax himself at the piano, this is an elusive work, one quite shadowy in the opening Moderato that yields more impulsive music at its centre. The second movement begins with chiselled jig-like rhythms that succumb to heightened rhapsody before a return to exhilaration.

Laurence Jackson, first violin of the Maggini Quartet, and Ashley Wass, have both been working wonders on behalf of British music for Naxos. Their partnership, for such it is, and with an excellent recording that reflects this, plays Bax as if it were second nature; however long they have ‘lived with’ this music, the impression given is that these are well-gestated and well-discussed performances that are rather more than ‘rehearse and record’ renditions. A first-class and enlightening record.

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