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Arnold BAX
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] DDD
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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 calm.

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.

John Phillips

See also composite review on the Bax site

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