BAX: Symphony No. 1 in E Flat. In the Faery Hills. The Garden of Fand.
Royal Scottish National Orch/David Lloyd-Jones, cond.
Naxos 8.553525 (B) (DDD) TT: 64:05
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The late Bryden Thompson addressed this repertoire and a great deal more by Bax (1883-1953) with the Ulster and London Philharmonic Orchestras on Chandos. Now Naxos would appear to have started an up-to-date series at rock-bottom prices with David Lloyd-Jones conducting -- more persuasively than in Vaughan Williams' Job of recent vintage, but without enough temperamental zeal or bardic raptus to challenge Thompson except on cost-per-disc grounds. Tim Handley has done his Janus-headed best as to double as producer and engineer, although Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow does not yield the acoustic plush of Chandos' venues.

Both tone poems are brimful of Irish lore, sometimes more poetic than Bax's besotted but frequently coarse, hectoring evocations. Sir Thomas Beecham, that canny winnower of works by countrymen he valued less than Delius and Lord Berners, but knew he couldn't neglect altogether, once recorded The Garden of Fand (on Naxos, excellent as well as copious notes by Keith Anderson fill in mythic sources), just as he singled out Elgar's Cockaigne Overture, Bantock's Fifine at the Fair, Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, etc., leaving most everything else to other Sirs: Adrian Boult, Henry Wood, and Hamilton Harty. The first (1921-2) of Bax's seven symphonies is battle-scarred despite its post-facto date -- not just WWI but the Irish Rebellion of 1916. It is dark, sort of Sibelian, cinematic in its looseness, often merely loud.

You want significant British composers from his era? Try a long bath in the music of Bantock, blazingly espoused on Hyperion by Vernon Handley (with more to come one hopes), or Vaughan Williams more familiarly. They led the pack after Elgar effectually retired in 1919, until Britten unfurled his credentials in 1945 with Peter Grimes, making the music of his elder contemporary Michael Tippett sound clumsy.

R.D. (Sept. 1999)