The key to understanding the work of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) comes from an episode in his childhood as described in his late-life autobiography "Farewell My Youth." Returning home with his family from a country outing when he was five or six, he happened to see the sun as it set behind a forested hill, and the spectacle of beauty (the sunlight refracted through the great mass of leaves) about to disappear (for the sunset is an ephemeral thing) impressed him deeply. When the last rays had withdrawn below the horizon and night had come on, Bax writes, he felt inexpressibly sad. Whether it is the solar primary about to quench itself in the West or the rural lifeways of Scotland and Ireland dissolving before the relentless march of industrial civilization - or his own departed youth - loss is the central, lyrical, experience in just about every important score by this imaginative and talented composer. That so lyrical a creativity should have taken up the rather abstract form of the symphony might strike one as unexpected; but then Bax went about writing his symphonies at just the time when the avant-garde had declared the form dead. Although record companies have given us sporadic attestations of Bax's symphonic achievement over the years (the Third ranks as the most-recorded), there has so far been only a single integral cycle, the one currently available on Chandos under Bryden Thomson. But the enterpreneurs at Naxos are in the midst of providing, at long last, a second such traversal, three installments of which have appeared. I confine myself here to the Fifth (1932), the most recent of these releases. Depending on the critic, either the Fifth or the Sixth (1934) is the peak of Bax's cycle of seven. I plump for the Fifth, at once the most austere and formally rigorous among its stablemates and the most poignant in its evocation of tragedy and loss. David Lloyd-Jones' account for Naxos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra ranks, in my opinion, as the best recorded performance of a Bax symphony ever, with Sir Adrian Boult's old Lyrita version of the Sixth just nipping at its heels. The opening theme (clarinets, in the chalumeau register) of the First Movement hits just the right mood of enigma; the whole of the First Movement grows from this material, as Lloyd-Jones well understands, even when the Lento metamorphoses into an Allegro con Fuoco ("Fast and with Fire"). The middle-movement Lento begins with trumpet-fanfares over a shimmering undulation in the violins and violas; Lloyd-Jones gets it perfectly, bringing off the necessary crescendo-decrescendo as no one else has. A serpentine, slow solo for cor anglais harks back to the First Movement's opening gesture on clarinets. The Third Movement Finale makes use of what Bax called a "Liturgical Theme." This again stems from the basic intervals of the clarinet-motif of the First Movement. Bax puts it through an astonishing series of metamorphoses until, in an orchestral unison unprecedented in the symphonic literature, it blazes forth in its original form, after which the symphony comes to a quiet end. The "Liturgical Theme" functions as the index, the sign, the trace, of an old order, a natural dispensation of things, which is incompatible with the modern (the too-shallow) present and so has disappeared. It is the blaze of the sunset, the slipping-away of one's youth, and the evaporation of old ways of life that had exercised their rhythm, their ethos, for centuries. Bax's detractors accused him of loose thinking. This essentially mono-thematic is one of the most of powerful of our century and belies the facile judgment. Naxos serves up the coeval "Tale the Pine Trees Knew" as a filler. Magnificent. And for little more than a fiver.