Symphony No. 5
The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
- David Lloyd-Jones
recorded 31st May and 31st June 1996 at the Henry Wood
Hall, Glasgow, Scotland.
Naxos 8.554509 [57.51]
Here is a disc which can hold its own with the best other companies can put
forward in competition, at a price which makes them all retire seriously
injured. This is another in David Lloyd-Jones's Bax Symphony series which
Naxos has been gradually adding to the catalogue in the past couple of years.
The only competition is from Chandos with their complete series of the symphonies
conducted by Bryden Thomson, shared between the Ulster Orchestra and the
London Philharmonic. These are at full price with fill ups or at bargain
price in a box without the fill ups. The only disadvantage the current issues
have over their competitor is that all the symphonies are not yet available.
Bax wrote seven symphonies, and the Chandos recordings have largely had the
field to themselves for a number of years, and very good they are too. However
competition is a good thing, and collectors who did not invest in the earlier,
much more expensive, discs are now in for a treat.
I find Bax does not have a particularly strong grasp of memorable tunes when
compared with Elgar and Vaughan Williams, but his skill as an orchestrator
is never in doubt. His use of the orchestra is up there with the best and
the fifth symphony is no exception.
It is written in three movements, and dedicated, like the accompanying tone
poem, to Sibelius. The first movement provides us with the typical features
of a major Bax symphony - impressionist blocks of colour and a huge range
of emotion contrasted with conflicts of rhythm, texture, tonality and pitch.
It has a slow introduction which is then broken up by a very strong timpani
beat and progresses through many modulations to its conclusion. The second
movement is primarily calm in nature with this being disturbed in the centre
by brass figurations which then recede and lead us back to the feeling of
Although the last movement is marked Poco Moderato, a driving liturgical
theme opens it and this is replaced by the opening theme from the first movement.
It is then again constructed in a rather meandering nature, with various
themes being thrown in, developed, and replaced until we reach the end which
is transformed by a triumphal march based upon the initial liturgical theme
followed by a final orchestral flourish.
The fill up, "The Tale the Pine Trees Knew" is a short piece (16 minutes),
has very clearly the atmosphere of the 5th Symphony. It was completed
in 1931, and is based on his perception of the northern forests. Again a
superb performance and recording.
See also composite review on the Bax site