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CHAN 10209M
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CHAN 10209
(multiple CD Set)
Orchestral Works, Vol.7

Bax: Orchestral Works, Volume 7

The Classical Shop
release date: February 2004

Originally recorded in 2003


London Philharmonic Orchestra

Bryden Thomson

Margaret Fingerhut



All Saints' Church, Tooting, London


Brian Couzens


Ralph Couzens

Tim Handley

(Assistant: Symphonic Variations)

Philip Couzens

(Assistant: Winter Legends)

Record Label
Chandos Classics


Orchestral & Concertos

Total Time - 91:06
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Orchestral Works, Vol.7

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  Orchestral Works, Volume 7  

Winter Legends

1 I Allegro 14:02
2 II Lento, molto espressivo 15:17
3 III Molto moderato - Allegro molto 7:51
4 Epilogue. Molto cantabile 6:15

Symphonic Variations

  Part One 23:06      
5 Theme. Lento espressivo 3:01
6 Variation I 'Youth'. Allegro: Restless and tumultuous 4:03
7 Variation II 'Nocturne'. Slow and serene: Broadly 8:05
8 Variation III 'Strife'. Allegro vivace 5:57
  Part Two  
9 Variation IV 'The Temple'. Slow and solemn 10:50
10 Variation V 'Play'. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace 4:00
11 Intermezzo 'Enchantment'. Very moderate tempo 6:45
12 Variation VI 'Triumph'. Moderate tempo: Glowing and passionate 5:00
 Margaret Fingerhut piano
 Bryden Thomson
  3 & 4 April 1986 (Winter Legends), 7 & 8 January 1987 (Symphonic Variations)  
Chandos has long been an advocate of the work of Sir Arnold Bax, as the company’s huge Bax discography demonstrates. Last year’s Bax celebrations generated an enormous amount of new interest in this underrated British composer, as was evident from the great success of Chandos’ box set of Bax’s complete symphonies.

This is the seventh release in Chandos’ repackages of Bax’s orchestral works, which are still deemed to be the finest versions available.

This is the only available recording of Winter Legends, one of Bax’s most successful works for piano and orchestra, and there is only one other recording of the Symphonic Variations. For both these pieces, the original manuscripts have been consulted and later cuts in performing materials restored, presenting the works as Bax had originally intended.

This release comprises two discs which sell for the price of one.

Sir Arnold Bax produced some of his most celebrated tone poems during the First World War, including Tintagel, The Garden of Fand, and the Symphonic Variations which appear in this set. The war years also saw a remarkable change in Bax’s personal circumstances, the result of a passionate love affair with the pianist Harriet Cohen. By the end of the War he had deserted his children and his respectable married life to live in rented rooms in Hampstead. Thereafter he was always to be associated with Harriet Cohen, though his initial passion eventually cooled. But it was for her that the work Symphonic Variations was written (the score is inscribed ‘To darling Tania with love from Arnold’ – Tania was the name by which Miss Cohen’s friends knew her) and the work undoubtedly owes much of its content to their relationship at the time. The score brought Bax wide recognition as a composer.

Winter Legends is in a form which Bax evolved for his symphonies – three movements with epilogue. Although Bax agreed it might well be regarded as another symphony, he remarked that ‘in the first movement the form is free’, and in the last analysis he felt that movement to be ‘too rhapsodic for symphonic structure’. What legends exactly Bax had in mind when he wrote the piece, we do not know. There is obviously an underlying programme, but whether it is something as clearly delineated as an Icelandic Saga or, rather less precisely, it is a more subconscious drama of Bax himself, we cannot tell.

No Internal Reviews Found.

Considering the evident paternity of Bax's music in late romantic and impressionist styles, the richness of original invention flowing from his pen keeps me expecting something new and fresh with every newly acquired work. It is partly on account of his incredibly fecund orchestral imagination, which on the whole provides ample compensation for the sometimes surprising dearth of memorable melodic invention. You would have to go far to find another composer with such a voluptuous palette and so much talent for mixing the brush strokes on his palette. As it happens, all my previous Bax albums came from the Chandos stable of Handley and Thomson. Maybe chance? I don't think so. For decades., I knew only one Bax composition, Tintagel in the Barbirolli version. Thomson is so much better, not only in terms of sound, but in his performance which is refined, passionate and deeply involved. I think he is (was, I fear) a natural for Bax, just as the Chandos sound is the perfect match for Bax's bravura orchestrations. Accordingly it was with high expectations that I approached this album. I knew that two of his decidedly weaker works are his concertos for cello and violin. Perhaps his creative intelligence rebelled against the need for soloistic virtuosity? At any rate it struck me that both of them lacked the grateful tunes that are de rigeur in this form. But from an accomplished pianist I hoped different things in piano concertos. And I am glad to say that I was not disappointed with at least one of these two. "Concerto" is in fact the wrong description - they are both symphonic poems with a prominent, but integrated solo part. I find it preferable (rightly or wrongly) to listen to the music at least 2-3 times without bothering to acquaint myself with any "poetical" ideas that might have influenced it. If the music can't stand on its own two feet, then it's mere decoration. The "Winter Legends" fully met my expectations in this respect. A magnificent orchestral journey through a wide range of moods, from wistfully melancholic to grand outbursts of passion, from chamber music filigree to massive brass-laden panoply. An experience wotth the full price of admission. I say this because the Variations are clearly a step down. Here Bax does not escape sounding both trivial and sentimental at times, which makes for a sore contrast to those episodes where he is fully in his imaginative fettle. Unfortunately the weak portions of the work become the more conspicuous as they drag on beyond reasonable length, so that the whole work outstays its welcome some time before the end. Having now read the notes, I understand that Bax truncated the work for its first performer, Harriet Cohen - ostensibly because she couldn't manage some of the difficult piano writing. I wonder if after all it was wise to reinstate the cuts. A composer does not as a rule cut things without good reason, and one performer's limitations don't seem that strong an argument. But this I may leave to other purchasers to decide. The cuts might have made the work a more coherent unity. Margaret Fingerhut seems not to have such problems. She discharges her duties as an accomplished artists, and it needs to be said that blatantly virtuosic elements hardly play a role in these symphonically scored works. No praise is too high for the man in control, however. The orchestral canvas is of the highest quality. I think that Chandos were as lucky to have him on their books as he was to find such an outstanding recording team. The sound on this album confirms once more for me that the Chandos people know their business. There is a natural ambience, a luminous yet transparent soundscape that could not be bettered. No "monkey tricks" here, i.e. making the winds aurally jump from one place to another. You're in the best seat of the house and stay there. The balance between piano and orchestra is ideal.