Performances are excellent; anyone who knows Vernon Handley’s superb cycle of the Bax symphonies will need no further encouragement to hear this disc too.
These four orchestral pieces by Arnold Bax make for dangerous listening: you’ll be battered by storms and swept out to sea. Given Bax’s chromatic language and avoidance of clear-cut design you risk losing consciousness too: this isn’t a disc for continuous listening. Still Handley loves such opulent music; the BBC Philharmonic radiate in Chandos’ rich sound; and two pieces, November Woods and The Garden of Fand, are among Bax’s most seductive.
It is a tremendous achievement, the crowning glory of Vernon Handley’s dedication to British music in general and to this composer in particular.
Gramophone on CHAN 10122(5) Bax Symphonies
Handley and the BBC Philharmonic strain all their musical sinews to bring out every detail of these highly wrought and texturally complex works, and Handley’s command of structure and pacing is majestic.
The Guardian on CHAN 10122(5) Bax Symphonies
This is the greatest single Bax orchestral record I have heard: the orchestral playing is magnificent throughout, of a quality that this music has been crying out for for decades but which it has never received – until now… this playing is of a high international standard – but over and above the excellence of this fine orchestra is the profound understanding and musicianship of Vernon Handley’s conducting… an issue of considerable importance
International Record Review
This recording makes a splendid follow-up to Vernon Handley’s set of the complete Bax symphonies: here some of the composer’s most powerful orchestral writing receives utterly committed, full-bloodied performance, the complex textures ideally balanced and superbly recorded. A superb disc for British music fans
BBC Music Magazine
This restless, syncopated score may not be top-drawer Bax but the Manchester musicians play it with the fervour of true believers.
Chandos’ earlier recordings with Bryden Thomson were magnificent enough, but Handley goes further still in expressing the broad Romanticism combined with Celtic dreaminess and melancholy that imbues Bax’s works… The BBC Philharmonic plays this kind of music like no other, its strings warm and pliant, its woodwind and brass characterful and penetrating. Bax fans need not hesitate.
In the faery Hills and The Garden of Fand are among Bax’s loveliest and most loveable creations and, though the windswept November Woods is far less tuneful, its emotional undercurrents run unfathomably deep…Handley’s deliberate focus on motivic clarity bring out a Wagnerian grandeur and gravity that strengthen the work’s narrative backbone.
Now Handley lifts us to a new level by penetrating into Bax’s emotional state. It’s all here – the yearning, uncertainty, raw days, and sweeping storms. As a tone poem of a piece of music, the Boult is exemplary, but for a glimpse into the state of mind that produced November Woods, you need Vernon Handley… This recording is not only a discovery, it’s a treat
American Record Guide