Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
London Pageant
Concertante for cor anglais, clarinet, horn and orchestra (1948-9)
Suite from Tamara (1911)
Cathaleen-ní-Hoolihan (1903)
Gillian Callow (cor anglais); John Bradbury (clarinet); Jonathan Goodall (French horn)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec Studio 7, BBC, Manchester, 17 May 23 June 2000 DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 9879 [74.33]
Crotchet    Amazon UK    Amazon US

Gradually all Bax's music, (with the exception of the bulk of his songs) is finding its way onto CD and it was with some personal delight that I seized first here on the early tone poem Cathaleen-ni-Houlihan - a supremely lovely evocation of a young man's fervid enchantment with the romantic mysteries of the Isles of Youth - vintage Bax, stemming from an early youthful String Quartet (but even earlier from a two violins and piano piece, played by Eve Bax and Gladys Lees at a family concert at Ivy Bank in November 1904 - Arnold's twenty first birthday) a setting difficult to imagine given the ultra-romantic lushness of the orchestral version!

This exciting disc opens with the 1937 London Pageant - a ceremonial and colourful march, nearer perhaps to Eric Coates than to Elgar or Walton, despite its darker side - as if the marchers were shadowed Machen-like by ancient warriors! The peroration, backed by the massive power of the organ, is impressively Gothic.

Another late work, the Concertante for three solo winds - a kind of amalgam of three linked concerto movements - is an immediately attractive commission in memory of Sir Henry Wood. The four movements - three given in turn to cor anglais, clarinet and horn, the fourth a joyful coalition - are marked, despite the opening elegy (which the composer indicated recalled the tragic loves of Sarah Curran and Robert Emmett) with the characteristic serenity of Bax's late compositions, with none of the cataclysmic power of the first six symphonies. This mood is quickly banished with the brisk 'oompah' of the strings and the grotesque clarinet solo in which Bax seems almost to dwell on the instrument's less lyrical attributes. A dark string background underpins the reflective horn solo - Bax in nostalgic mood, the horn calls summoning ... what? Perhaps a last glance at those isles of the West. The final movement in which all join with their own personal gloss on the music suggest that, beneath the apparent pageantry, the merriment is somehow haunted by the past. But with a shrug of the shoulders Bax introduces a cheerful bubbling theme, which after a series of variations, ends with a cheeky gesture.

Following this, the dire opening gestures of the Prelude to the long forgotten ballet "Tamara" (which Bax withdrew when the Ballets Russes produced Balakirev's 'Thamar' in 1912) transports us to another world. The title was changed to 'King Kojata', but it was never orchestrated. It has now been superbly realised by Graham Parlett who, in line with Bax's other theatrical scores of the period, has produced a score vibrant with colour, every bit as vital as the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. There are moments of exquisite frisson - the opening of the Prelude: the first ethereal chords of Naiads - a young man's music which leaves me wondering what other magical excerpts Dr Parlett had to leave - enough for another Suite perhaps?

Colin Scott-Sutherland

See also review by Rob Barnett

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