Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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ARNOLD BAX Symphony No. 2; November Woods Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones. Naxos 8.554093

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See also earlier reviews by Richard Adams and Ian Lace  (use back button to return)

Naxos's Bax series ploughs forward with forthright energy and resolve. If it is completed (and I understand that although a number of symphonies, including the next to come no. 3, are 'in the can' numbers 4, 6 and 7 have yet to be taped) this will be the first ever cycle by one conductor and one orchestra. That it will have been completed on a bargain label is a credit to Mr Heymann and his vision.

Bax has long been one of my favourite composers. I rate him very highly indeed and place the present symphony and no. 6 well above many other British symphonies reckoned to be masterworks.

November Woods here receives a punctilious performance but misses the errantly intoxicating fantasy that marks out Boult's recording on Lyrita. It is however no mean performance and never has Bax's delicate strength breathed with such vivid audio impact.

The Symphony is a different matter as an interpretation and although I still marginally (and it is only a slight preference) lean towards Myer Fredman's Lyrita recording (still not transferred from LP to CD!) the present recording and performance is clear rosette material.

The Chandos recording of No. 2 suffers from an oppressive ambient warmth that dulls detail and softens impact. Bryden Thomson's LPO performance also falls victim to the dream rather than the forward pulse far too often.

The symphony was written during the silly 1920s but its richly romantic approach is far more in tune with the 1930s. It is a luxurious work contrasting with the Russian austerities of the stark first symphony. The great arching love-song spins and beats out over a Celtic ambience notable for its ferocity rather than its feyness - no Immortal Hour here! Boiling fanfares and eruptive climaxes are given with full power. The second movement seems sometimes to have stepped from the pages of D'Indy or Florent Schmitt. This is a song of erotic longing that points towards the music of the original dedicatee of Bax Sixth symphony - Karol Szymanowski. Only in the third movement is there a slight feeling that a degree more snap and vim would have made the performance unmatchable by anyone.

Recommended to all listeners who appreciate compellingly empowered symphonies with memorable melodies and shattering impact.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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