Naxos's cycle of the symphonies of Arnold Bax with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones is one of the greatest achievements of their impressive catalogue, with performances that can easily match and often surpass the eminently impressive Bryden Thomson ones (I have to admit that I haven't yet heard the celebrated Handley cycle). That said, I am unsure whether this recording of the fourth is among the best of the series - it is, firstly, not Bax's strongest symphony (though it is still a mightily impressive work of vivid colors, lush textures and fantastic atmospheres), and secondly it was featured on what was, perhaps, the strongest installment in the Thomson series - in this case I have to say that Lloyd-Jones doesn't quite manage to match the older Chandos recording.
But it is still a very good performance, exhibiting many of the same qualities - one drawback, however, is the choice of tempi; Lloyd-Jones is generally faster than Thomson, and while newcomers might not notice, comparisons reveal that Thomson's account is just a little more atmospheric and natural-sounding, in particular in the first movement, and thereby achieves a clarity and sinewy power that, at least to a certain extent, eludes Lloyd-Jones. That said, there are many magnificent touches to this version, and Lloyd-Jones manages to bind the slightly episodic work together convincingly (the finale is marvelous).
Nympholept is an alluring, vibrant and colorful tone poem, and if it is not among Bax's very best it is still a splendid work, and it receives convincing advocacy here. The Overture to a Picaresque Comedy is a brilliant work, however, delightfully swaggering and sporting an absolutely fabulous, gorgeous middle theme. On the other hand, Lloyd-Jones and his Scottish players are just a little bit rushed here, losing some of the color nuances and textural details. The sound quality is good, but not as clear and vivid as on some of the earlier installments in the series. Still, this is a very fine release, strongly recommended on its own terms and an absolute must for followers of this series.