Bax remains dramatic but distant

Superb playing by Ashley Wass and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra can't quite raise a fragmentary Bax to popular appeal.

Composer: Bax
Repertoire:  Winter Legends; Morning Song; Saga Fragment
Artists: Ashley Wass (pf), Bournemouth SO/James Judd
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: NAXOS 8.572597

The Music: Winter Legends (three movements with a brief Epilogue) is more a sinfonia concertante than a conventional piano concerto or suite. Morning Song was written to celebrate the 21st birthday of the then Princess Elizabeth; Saga Fragment is a reworking of Bax’s own 1922 Piano Quintet. All three were premiered by Bax’s muse and mistress, the pianist Harriet Cohen.

The Performance: Morning Song, subtitled ‘Maytime in Sussex’, is the most immediately appealing, a deftly drawn pastoral miniature. Winter Legends (1929-30), lasting nearly 40 minutes, has such a profusion of ideas and gear changes that, for all its colourful orchestral garb and the lively recording, the music holds you at arm’s length. This is the talented Ashley Wass’s eighth Bax disc for Naxos, and he is kept fully occupied throughout all three works.

The Verdict: Dramatic and atmospheric though Bax may be, the fragmentary, episodic nature of the main work will take even more than the superb playing of Wass and the Bournemouth players for it to win broad popular appeal.

Want More? Try Bax’s Symphonic Variations on Naxos 8.570774 with the same forces, coupled with his Concertante for piano (left hand).