ARNOLD BAX: The Piano Music = Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 4; Two Russian Tone-Pictures; many other short pieces – Iris Loveridge, piano – Lyrita

by | Jan 20, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ARNOLD BAX: The Piano Music = Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 4; Two Russian Tone-Pictures; many other short pieces – Iris Loveridge, piano – Lyrita Mono REAM.3113 (3 CDs) [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

The British label Lyrita is renowned among fans of British music for its many unique vinyl albums featuring works unavailable anywhere else and recorded with the utmost fidelity.  Now many of these classic analog recordings are being reissued on CD, including a number of mono originals. Being solo piano and extremely well-recorded to begin with, the mono designation on this boxed set is no disadvantage.  The original recordings were made from 1959 thru 1965.

Bax, who lived until 1953, was like his fellow countryman Vaughn Williams, a mixture of Romantic and Impressionistic styles. He also had a strong Celtic influence. Bax’s symphonic poems The Garden of Fand and Tintagel seem to be his main calling cards, and his seven symphonies may be considered an English counterpart of the Sibelius Seven.  I was taken by the similarities to Debussy’s path-breaking piano music in many of the Bax piano selections in this lovely collection.  His pieces are quite different from most British piano music of the period, which tended to be small scale and spare.  Bax pulled out all the stops in some of these works, and at same time achieved some amazing effects not unlike the new world of piano music which Debussy traversed. Many of these pieces are very dramatic and passionate, sometimes even ecstatic in the manner of Scriabin.  

The first two Piano Sonatas follow this style, but as time went on Bax  strove for more simplicity and directness, and his Fourth Piano Sonata is less elaborate than its predecessors, in some ways harking back to early English keyboard music.  The short piano pieces cover a wide variety of moods and styles, with clearly descriptive titles such as Whirlgig, The Slave Girl, Winter Waters, Serpent Dance, Burlesque, Mediterranean, and the final short piece using an old English folksong – O Dame get up and bake your pies.

 – John Sunier

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