ARNOLD BAX - BAX Violin
Sonatas 2- Reviewed by Graham Parlett
THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE
Last Modified December 18,
Bax: Works for Violin and Piano, volume 2: Violin
Sonata No.2, Ballad, Legend, Sonata in G minor, Sonata in F major.
Laurence Jackson (violin), Ashley Wass (piano).
Recorded at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, 4
December 2004 (tracks 1-4); 1-4
December 2005 (tracks 5-9).
Naxos CHAN 8.570094.
Having been much impressed by the first volume in
this series, I am pleased to report that volume 2 is fully up to the
same high standard. Jackson and Wass play with a rare understanding
of Bax’s music and offer insights into these scores that are not
revealed in rival recordings. The CD opens with the dark and
restless Second Sonata of 1915, revised in 1921. The players’
scrupulous attention to detail is revealed in the opening page in
which the sonata’s principal motif (also used in the tone-poem
November Woods) is first announced. The second of the four
linked movements, entitled ‘The Grey Dancer in the Twilight’, has
just the right pace, and the players make the most of the long and
expressive slow movement before plunging into the headstrong finale,
which starts in the unusual time signature of 11/4. All in all an
excellent performance, better than the Chandos and ASV versions and
rivalled only by Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe on the GSN label
(coupled with Elgar’s Violin Sonata).
Both the Legend of 1915 and the Ballad
of 1916 have been recorded twice before: by Henry Holst and Frank
Merrick on a long-deleted LP and by Robert Gibbs and Mary Wu on an
ASV CD. They are both dark scores, reflecting the times in which
they were written, and these new versions bring out their
restless quality better than the earlier ones.
The one-movement Sonata in G minor (1901), which
Bax wrote at the age of eighteen, has been recorded once before,
again by Gibbs and Wu on the ASV disc, but this new version takes an
altogether livelier view of the unpublished score. The work is well
constructed and contains some attractive melodic material,
especially the memorable second subject. A student work it may be,
but both players tackle it as if it were a great masterpiece and
fully justify its resurrection, though, as in the case of the early
Trio in One Movement, Sir Arnold himself would probably have been
horrified at the idea of his juvenile thoughts being heard by the
The final work on this splendid disc is the
Sonata in F, which was written in 1928 but never played in this form
until his centenary year (1983); he later arranged it as the Nonet
(or Nonett, the German spelling, as the manuscript and the first
printed edition have it). The only rival version of the piece is
again by Robert Gibbs and Mary Wu on ASV, but this new performance
is much livelier, making us forget the music in its more familiar
incarnation. For what it is worth, I compared the timings of all the
works on this CD and found that every single movement was played
faster than in the ASV versions.
In short, another winner from Jackson and Wass:
first-rate performances, extremely well recorded, and with notes by
a certain Lewis Foreman. Having disliked the Victorian watercolour
on the front of Ashley Wass’s last disc (the two-piano music), I am
glad to see an attractive photograph of the Donegal coast on this
issue: much more appropriate. Grateful thanks once again to Naxos
for their obvious confidence in the selling power of Bax’s music.