Almost 20 years have passed since the 50th anniversary commemoration of the death of Sir Arnold Bax and the concurrent release of Vernon Handley’s complete set of Bax symphonies on Chandos. That set received enormous amounts of media attention and became the ‘go-to’ set for the Bax symphonies.
If you are reading this, it’s probably fair to say you are experienced in unrequited love. Carrying a torch for a composer bypassed by history is like that, rendered all the more intense by one’s sense of injustice at the neglect.
Superlative liner notes from Graham Parlett, added to full texts and a loving presentation from EM Records, make ‘From the Hills of Dream’ an attractive prospect. But does the music of Bax’s forgotten songs justify such quality treatment? Christopher Webber asks the question …
First written in 1910 and revised for publication ten years later, Bax’s First Piano Sonata was inspired by a romantic love affair and a trip to Russia and the Ukraine. In this comparative analysis of all ten available recordings, Christopher Webber asks whether its biographical content is important.
An absorbing recital of English piano music, from the acclaimed Schubert specialist Franzisca Lee on the Capriccio label, is bookended by two, great 1st Sonatas: Tippett’s coming-of-age breakthrough and Bax’s Russian-inspired confessional dominate her programme, which also includes substantial works by Britten, Bridge and Ireland. Christopher Webber reviews…
If you are looking for a perfect stocking-stuffer for your music-loving friend who also has a liking for British song and composers, then I’ve got the perfect suggestion for you. Bass-Baritone Timothy Dickinson and pianist Duncan Honeybourne have combined their considerable talents to create a gorgeous disc of yuletide songs by British composers that features some well-known favorites alongside a few rarities including a selection of little-known carol arrangements by Arnold Bax.
British Bass-Baritone Timothy Dickinson is well known from his recitals across the UK to his operatic roles at Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera, Longborough and elsewhere. He has toured internationally with Silent Opera and has also been a regular guest at the St Endellion Festivals in Cornwall.
When in 1996 I created the Sir Arnold Bax Website, I knew immediately the first couple of luminaries I wanted to interview. Vernon (Tod) Handley was my initial preference, but the media-shy conductor turned out to be very evasive; so I pursued my second choice, who was at that time was the curator of Asian Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and who during his off hours was intensively involved in research on the life and music of Sir Arnold Bax.
The Monthly Musical Record (September 1915, p.259f) critic reviewing the score of Apple-Blossom Time, suggests that ‘The art of Mr Bax is a correlative of the characteristic canvas work of Mr E.W. Hornel’. This is an interesting comparison. Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933) was an Australian-born artist who moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland. He specialised in Celtic and Japanese imagery – and pictures of orchards. The reviewer continues by noting that ‘summer happiness, trees in full blossom, happy carefree childhood, rich luxurious natural setting, all appear in the music of Bax as clearly as they are seen in the pictures of Hornel.’ As to the musical content of Apple-Blossom Time, it is noted that ‘The textures, the vivid lines, the almost kaleidoscopic colouring clearly defined yet all blended in a subtle way by exquisite mastery of mood’ also suggests the work of Hornel.
Since first hearing Arnold Bax’s A Northern Ballad in the early 1970’s, I have felt that it is underappreciated. The conventional critique of this tone poem places the ‘plot’ or the ‘action’ in the Highlands of Scotland. Nevertheless, as Lewis Foreman has pointed out (Lyrita Sleeve Notes, SRCS 62) ‘the programmatic origins of the work are not admitted in the score.’ The only clue is provided in Bax’s short note included in the premiere’s programme booklet and subsequently reprinted in the Royal Philharmonic Society Programme (3 December 1931). It was latterly printed in Parlett (1999):