Occasionally, you tell yourself that the relative neglect of an "obscure" composer is justified. After all, whenever I tell people that I'm listening to Bax, I get some rather puzzled stares. Yet don't give into temptation--Bax is an excellent composer who was capable of writing some first-rate music. This disc showcases two of his most powerful scores, with arguably more charm, panache, and argument than many of his symphonies.
The Violin Concerto was written for Heifetz, who predictably refused to perform the work (I think he made a studio recording of it, but that was all). While it may lack the showmanship he was accustomed to, the work is still a brauvara affair, with an electric opening and very memorable themes. The slow movement is particularly memorable for Bax, and throughout attests to a very high degree of inspiration. The most charming movement is the finale, which has a kind of "La Valse" passage in the middle which is outrageous. A stunning work, beautifully played by Mordkovitch, who has single-handedly rescued so many unjustly neglected concertos and sonatas.
My favorite piece, however, is the Cello Concerto--a genre I wouldn't immediately associate with Bax. It's a colossal work, full of motor rhythms, brooding Nordic elements, and exciting passages for cello. Some of Bax's most beautiful melodies adorn the first two movements, particularly the slow movement, which is a profound meditaiton upon...(fill in the blank). I honestly can't imagine a more committed score for cello and orchestra, and why this isn't occasionally performed instead of Elgar is baffling. I mean, come on, this is a GREAT work...but of course, I'm not speaking as a cellist, so I don't know.
The disc concludes with a bit of Bax's lighter music, the Morning Song for piano and orchestra. It's a very charming, tuneful piece, and a refreshing aftertaste after the monumental virtuoso performances that preceeded it.
All the pieces are amazingly performed by Bryden Thomson, whose recordings of Bax remain (for me) the standard. Everything "sounds here, and I couldn't imagine a better performance. A great disc, but it now and realize that Bax is a better composer than you realized--or remember why you got into him in the first place.