Bax Editorial – January 2015

Chandos and Bax

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve while thinking back on this past year and what it offered to us Baxians. Actually, it was quite a good year as it saw the release of the premiere recording on Dutton of Bax’s early Symphony in F (see review) as well as a new disc of Bax’s orchestral music from Chandos conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and played by the BBC Philharmonic. There had been some doubt as to whether Chandos would continue its Bax cycle after Vernon Handley’s passing in 2008 and for several years it appeared nothing would follow. As it turned out, it was a long-held desire on the part of Chandos to record the Viola Phantasy that led to the label asking Sir Andrew Davis to take over for Vernon Handley and thankfully he agreed.

Davis is no stranger to Bax. He has programmed Tintagel, The Garden of Fand and November Woods with orchestras all around the world and he performed Spring Fire with the BBC Symphony Orchestra while he was their music director. I am not aware that he has ever conducted any of the symphonies but his sympathy for Elgar and Strauss makes me believe he’d do them very well.

When Chandos released this new disc, they announced that they had completed their intentions to record all of Bax’s orchestral music. Actually, that isn’t quite true. There remain a handful of works that escaped their attention including the overture Work in Progress, Victory March, Coronation March , various fanfares, Variations sur ‘Cadet-Rousselle,’ Variations on the name Gabriel Fauré , A Song of War and Victory and the early Symphonic Variations. Admittedly, these are relatively minor works so Chandos’ proclamation can be forgiven. That said, I hope Chandos will reconsider and reengage Sir Andrew Davis to record more Bax as this most recent disc was so successful. In case Chandos is looking for suggestions on what they ought to record next, I am very happy to offer my two cents:

Christmas Eve in the Mountains: Bax cut several glorious passages when he revised this work and the cuts don’t tighten the structure that much. A premiere recording of the original version would make for a very important release.

In the Faery Hill was also cut by Bax and Philip Heseltine stated in a letter to Bax that he very much regretted those cuts. As far as I know, the original version has not been played since the new version premiered. A disc featuring both the original Christmas Eve in the Mountains and In the Faery Hills would be fascinating.

Violin Concerto The late, great Lydia Mordkovitch recorded the Bax Violin Concerto using the published score that is riddled with errors and all those errors found their way into the recording. Why not invite Tasmin Little to record the Bax Violin Concerto using the edition of the score edited by Graham Parlett that is 100 percent accurate?

The great Bryden Thomson did a tremendous service to Bax but it has to be admitted that several of his recordings are far from ideal due to the often sluggish tempos he adopted – perhaps to compensate for the overly-reverberant acoustics of All Saint’s Church, Tooting. A list of works that I believe would benefit from new recordings include Paean, Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, Romantic Overture, Cortege, Festival Overture and A Legend.

So, there is more to be done on the Bax front if Chandos and Sir Andrew Davis are willing. The names Bax and Chandos are indelibly linked in the minds of music lovers due to the many great recordings of Bax’s music made by Chandos the past 30 years. I’d hate to see that tradition come to an end now.

Michael Kennedy

The New Year brought news of the passing of the great British musicologist Michael Kennedy. His books on Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Richard Strauss, Britten, Walton, Barbirolli, Boult and the Halle Orchestra are all classics. I met him several times and I always enjoyed our conversations. He wasn’t much of a Bax fan but he always spoke very warmly of Lewis Foreman’s biography on Bax when it was released in 1983 and his occasional reviews of Bax’s music on CD were usually fair and sympathetic. He was a great writer and a glorious man and something of an institution when it came to scholarship on British music. He will be greatly missed.

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