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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in E flat (1921-22)* [32:21];
Symphony No. 7 (1938-39)** [45:34].
London Philharmonic Orchestra/*Myer Fredman, **Raymond Leppard.
No rec. info. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.232 [77:56] and


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Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Symphony No. 2 (1924-6) [37:39]*
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor (1931-2)** [40:46]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/*Myer Fredman; **Raymond Leppard
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, Oct 1970*, Feb 1971**. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.233 [78.28] and

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Experience Classicsonline

I’ve been looking in the wrong places for recordings of the first two Bax symphonies. Regular visitors to the Musicweb site will have seen that I have been exploring the Bryden Thomson recordings of all the symphonies, deleted by Chandos as CDs in favour of the newer Vernon Handley versions, but available as reasonably priced downloads. In the main I have been impressed by these Thomson recordings, even in comparison with the Handley versions and those of David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos, but the first two symphonies have struck me as the least impressive of the series. Thomson’s tendency to linger and look at the landscape is at its most pronounced here.

In reviewing Bryden Thomson’s version of the First, I found that David Lloyd-Jones’s Naxos account was tauter and hung together better than Thomson’s but that his coupling, Tintagel, was surely already in the collection of any serious fan of Bax’s music. Myer Fredman’s Lyrita account has the same tautness and rightness but with a much more generous coupling, the equally neglected Seventh Symphony.

Knowing that I was looking for an ideal version of the Second Symphony in particular – significantly, I’ve ‘sat’ on this after completing reviews of all the others – our classical editor, Rob Barnett pointed me towards these Lyrita reissues. I am pleased that he did so: I prefer Myer Fredman’s version of the First to Bryden Thomson’s and am inclined to agree with Rob that Fredman’s Second is superior to everything else that I have heard.

From the echoes of Holst at the opening to the seamless transition into the coda of the Finale, Fredman’s Second hangs together as well as his account of the First. It’s as least as successful as the Lloyd-Jones version on Naxos at presenting a symphonic account of this work and, with a fine version of the Fifth Symphony as the coupling, more generous than either the Thomson or the Naxos.

It would be pointless to gild the lily by going over the same ground as my colleagues who have already reviewed these CDs – see CC’s review of nos. 1 and 7 and RB’s review of nos. 2 and 5. They convinced me to try these versions and there is nothing of substance in their reviews that I do not concur with. This version of the Second, in particular, comes as an answer to my prayers and replaces the Lloyd-Jones with which I have been perfectly happy for some time. There are aspects of Bax’s music here which I have not heard in any other version.

The download versions from emusic sound perfectly acceptable, though some tracks of the First fall short of even the nominal bit-rate of 192kbps – as low as 182 for the second movement. The Second comes in superior 320kbps format and all but the young and keen-eared are likely to be happy. If you have any doubts, go for the CDs.

The downloads from emusic come without cover illustration or notes, unlike the Chandos downloads of the Thomson versions. You can download the notes from Chandos or Naxos, but you may well prefer to forego the hassle and purchase the CDs, especially when they are available at so reasonable a price on a sale-or-return basis.. As well as versions of the First and Second Symphonies which I now rate the best available, you will find yourself in possession of equally fine accounts of the fine Fifth Symphony and the unfairly neglected Seventh.

If you thought Bax rambling and unfocused – and found that Thomson’s recordings confirmed you in that belief – go for these generously-coupled Lyrita CDs. We have many reasons to be very grateful that the fortunes of Lyrita and Nimbus have been revived and these recordings are not least among them.

Brian Wilson


see also:

SRCD.232 review by Colin Clarke

SRCD233 review by Rob Barnett (RECORDING OF THE MONTH Feb 2008) and Ian Lace





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