Bax Editorial – August 2015
Ashley Wass’s recording of Bax’s Symphonic Variations took place in the Poole Auditorium near Bournemouth the summer of 2008. Present were Mr. Wass, the conductor James Judd, the members of the Bournemouth Orchestra and the Naxos recording team. Bax Scholar Graham Parlett and I were also present and the experience of hearing the Bournemouth Orchestra and Mr. Wass play this extraordinary work in person was thrilling but for the musicians, producer and engineer, the experience was incredibly frustrating due to everyone having to work from a manuscript that was virtually impossible to read. I have no idea how the Bournemouth players were able to work their way through this score but I certainly recall their irritation as well as diligence. I spoke with Mr. Wass and Mr. Judd after the sessions and both expressed their love for Bax’s score and Wass even said he’d love to play it live although he said the chances of that occurring were virtually nil due to the condition of the score. Hearing that frustrated me because I believe Bax’s Symphonic Variations would go over extremely well at a Prom’s concert if performed by Ashley Wass or someone of his caliber. But it’s one of many Bax scores that will continue to languish in obscurity due to it having never been printed.
Normally it would be a composer’s estate or Trust that would work with the publisher to commission new orchestral parts and conductor’s scores but the Bax Trust is all but defunct while Bax’s publisher Warner-Chappell has in recent years not shown much interest in its Bax library. Realizing this, I decided I’d create a Kickstarter Project with the goal of raising funds to commission a new set of parts and conductor’s score for the Symphonic Variations. I contacted Warner/Chappell with my proposal and was given their support and now I’m going to the visitors of the Bax website to please ask for support and donations. While it is my hope that Warner/Chappell will see the value of its Bax Catalogue and do more to restore and promote those works by Bax that it owns the copyright to, I also believe we admirers of Bax’s music have to do what we can to further our man’s cause to include raising funds to create new editions of some major Bax scores that at present are in pretty sad condition. A public effort on Bax’s behalf might just convince Warner/Chappell that its Bax library is worth promoting and encourage them to reissue out-of-print scores and also create new editions of scores that have never been printed.
You can find out more information about the project by going to my Kickstarter link and watching the video:
Since I wrote my last editorial, we’ve lost the great Russian violinist Lydia Mordkovitch and the founder of Chandos, Brian Couzens. Mordkovitch recorded Bax’s Violin Concerto for Chandos in the early 1990s in addition to many other now-classic recordings including concertos by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Szymanowski and my still favorite recording of the Moeran Concerto with Handley and Ulster Orchestra. Her playing here, as in everything she did, was totally sympathetic and almost unbearably sensitive. She was an extraordinary player and her passing is very sad news.
We have Brian Couzens to thank not only for most of Lydia Mordkovitch’s recordings but for the entire Arnold Bax revival on disc in the 1980s when Chandos decided it would record all of Bax’s orchestral and chamber music , which it pretty much did. In fact, it not only recorded the symphonies and tone poems with then house-conductor Bryden Thomson but then again in 2003 with Bax’s greatest interpreter, Vernon Handley. We Baxians owe Chandos and specifically Brian Couzens our gratitude for his championship of Bax’s music and I would like to express my condolences to Chandos and the Couzen’s family for the loss of this very great man.
I’m very pleased to be able to feature an interview with the great British pianist and composer David Owen Norris who talks about a recital he’ll be giving in October that will feature several Bax premieres. Norris has been an advocate of Bax’s music for many years and his recordings of Bax for Chandos and more recently the EM Label are widely treasured. I also welcome a new set of off-air BBC recordings that are being given new life on the Lyrita Label. The first set of recording includes Bax’s Violin Concerto and hopefully more vintage BBC Bax recordings will follow.