Bax Editorial – July 2016
Since writing my last editorial, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform Bax’s Garden of Fand in the Barbican Centre conducted by Sakari Oramo. The program also included the Viola Concerto by Brett Dean and Elgar’s mighty First Symphony. Both Oramo and the BBC Symphony were in top form and all the performances were magnificent. Oramo’s Bax was as characterful as it was dynamic and it made quite an impression with the audience and the critics as several wrote afterward how wonderful it was to hear this rare work by Bax in the concert hall. The Guardian’s Andrew Clements even went so far as to request that Oramo schedule Tintagel and November Woods in the coming seasons as they deserve to be heard more often.
John Wilson and the City of Birmingham SO performed Fand a month later and the reviews of that concert were likewise laudatory – particularly of Wilson’s ability to bring out the subtle details in the orchestration and clarify textures that aren’t always clear in less meticulously prepared performances. Wilson is certainly going all out for the major Bax tone poems as he’s scheduled November Woods for next season’s CBSO concerts and he’s programming Fand and Tintagel with the orchestras he conducts around the world. I hope his enthusiasm for Bax extends to the symphonies as his current popularity with orchestras and audiences should provide him the clout to be able to persuade an orchestral manager or two to program a Bax symphony.
Sadly, there is very little Bax being scheduled next season by the major symphony orchestras in England or elsewhere but his chamber music is showing up all over the world. July saw performances of the Oboe Quintet in my hometown of Salt Lake City as well as a concert of his music for two pianos in San Francisco. Also more and more young British pianists have been taking up Bax’s solo piano music including the young piano virtuoso Martin James Bartlett who played Bax’s Burlesque for the Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations broadcast from St. Paul’s Cathedral last June. Another brilliant young British pianist, Christopher Guild, has been programming Bax’s Third Piano Sonata in his most recent recitals (see concert listings) while London-based pianists Christopher Atkinson and Alex Kirk can be seen on You Tube playing various Bax pieces and both have indicated they’d like to play more in their recitals. I’m sure there are other pianists performing Bax whom I hope to become aware of so I can promote here on this site.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the 50th anniversary in July of the recording of Bax’s Sixth Symphony for Lyrita featuring the New Philharmonia and conducted by the much-missed Norman Del Mar. The recording sessions took place at the Kingsway Hall and lasted three days (July 18-20, 1966). The engineer was Gordon Parry. This was the first of Lyrita’s Bax recordings and only the third recording of a Bax symphony ever made commercially. There have been four additional recordings of Bax’s Sixth Symphony including those by Bryden Thomson, Douglas Bostock, David Lloyd-Jones and Vernon Handley and all have their merits but it is the Del Mar that remains the most searching and impassioned performance of this truly great symphony. That recording is now available on a Lyrita CD coupled with overtures recorded in the mid-1990s by another much-missed Baxian, Vernon Handley. It’s an essential disc for every Baxian’s collection.