Ashley Wass unleashes Bax's hidden passion

Pianist Ashley Wass, along with The Tippett Quartet unlock the passion and power in Bax and Bridge's Piano Quintet

Composer: Bax, Bridge
Repertoire: Piano Quintets 
Artists: Ashley Wass (pf), The Tippett Quartet
Rating: 4/5 
Genre: Chamber
Label: Naxos 8.572474

The Music A pair of works for piano and string quartet by two highly-regarded British composers of the early 20th century. Bax’s forty-minute long Piano Quintet (1915) occupies symphonic dimensions, and is dark and broody – the sound of surprise. Bridge’s Quintet (1905) is more obviously Edwardian and stately, but powerful full-bodied Finale though. 

The Performance Confounding the popular view of him as fey rural pastoralist, Bax’s Piano Quintet is wonderfully off-the-leash and extreme; Wass and The Tippett Quartet keep the tempestuous, jaggedly chromatic melody lines of the first movement dangling on a precipice: and what to make of the percussive pizzicato thwacks that open the second movement? The Tippetts choose not to compromise their physical impact, nor Bax’s obsessive-compulsive, hard-driven finale. The Bridge is more of a wallow; great if you like that kind of thing, especially given Ashley Wass and the Tippetts’ regal, red-blooded tone. 

The Verdict I can’t imagine the Bax receiving a more passionate, devoted performance and this disc has made me rethink my view of his music. An equally impressive account of the Bridge; not as consciously ‘pretty’ as Piers Lane’s Hyperion performance (CDA 67726). 

Want More? Bridge’s tone poems The Sea, Enter Spring and Summer are gnarly, adventurous orchestral works: I like the forthright, exploratory performances from the New Zealand SO and James Judd (Naxos 8.557167).