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Arnold Bax composed several symphonic poems during the second and third decades of the 20th century, when he was at the peak of his creative powers. The most popular and famous of these is Tintagel, a vivid, opulent depiction of 'the castle crowned cli
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Thomson did a great job with the tone poems, wallowing and luxuriating in their richness. The problem is, 20+ years later, the early digital sound is more annoying than it was at the time. The strings are missing weight and body, the brass are shrill, etc.
This Naxos disc has really nice sound--full mid-range and bass, good clarity, warmth. Lloyd-Jones moves the pieces along with more momentum than Thomson did. (Boult did the same, in a Lyrita disc that isn't easy to find now.) In Lloyd-Jones' account of the Bax symphonies for Naxos, that's a plus, because it reins in their meandering quality to some extent. In the tone poems, I rather like a little "wallowing." But Lloyd-Jones' approach is perfectly reasonable, and, for this listener, represents at least an interesting change. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is a little underpowered in the strings, but consists of first-rate musicians, and plays quite well.
If you haven't heard Bax, this is a great place to start, at the right price, too. If you know Bax's music, this is a happy alternative version. (Most, if not all of these pieces were included as fillers with the Lloyd-Jones symphonies, but it's worth it, in my view, to have them together in this format.)
There are five symphonic poems on this CD. Each one is different, with a different sort of theme or concept. While it seems that Tintagel is the best known, my personal favorite was November Woods, which is low, beautiful, and mysterious. The sound is good enough for me (as someone who knows little about sound quality and only knows that it sounds GOOD), the playing is beautiful enough for me, and the deal is great. This was a great disc to get introduced to a very interesting composer through a few orchestral pieces that weren't too long and difficult to concentrate on. Every song on here is nice to listen to, played well, and is very good.
I recommend this for anyone who wants to get into Bax but doesn't know where to start. This is a great introduction.
John J. Puccio
It is the duty, and it should be the pleasure, of a fair-minded reviewer to say at once that the performances here are excellent, and the recording too. It is particularly gratifying to me to be able to say again that the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is well on the way to taking its place among the world's finer orchestras. These compositions call for a bold and rich sound, and that is forthcoming here, as is some fine solo work from the orchestral principals. All the same, what I look for in second-league music like this is something completely special in the readings, the kind of wizardry that Beecham could supply. Perhaps that will be the next step in this orchestra's progress. For now, there's nothing essential missing, and this disc should be a pleasant addition, moderately priced, to anyone's collection.
These symphonic poems are what I might term `intermediate' programme-music. They are not overtly representational as Strauss sometimes is, but the programme is more detailed and specific than in, say, Sibelius's Tapiola or The Oceanides, which can perfectly well be heard as `absolute' music, related in only a vague and impressionistic way to their titles and supposed themes. I find that I get the greatest enjoyment out of them if I secure a reasonably clear mental picture to start with of what they are about, and link the episodes in the music to that as they go along. Without some steering of this kind I doubt I could really identify, for example, `a tonal impression of the castle-crowned cliff of...Tintagel', or necessarily be able to distinguish it from the sea rising to overwhelm the island at another point. To obtain this mental image I naturally resort to the liner note, which does this basic job adequately. I have to say, on the other hand, that this short essay is not its author's best. Exactly what is Bax's relationship to Ireland, for instance? After reading a poem by Yeats at age 19 he appears to have `discovered in himself a strong Celtic identity'. What might this be, `a strong Celtic identity', and is it any different from suburbanite dreams of getting away from it all? And if `the garden of Fand is the sea' and later `Fand's garden is seen no more' we appear to be encountering some apocalyptic catastrophe. A bit more thought and care in the writing would have been welcome, considering that points like these have an important bearing on the music.
Niggles like this aside, this is a very fine disc in the most important departments, namely the performance and recording. At a bargain rate in particular it can be thoroughly recommended, and it may be quite a while before we hear these pieces played and recorded so well again.