Bax: Symphony No. 7 (CD review)

Also, Tintagel. David Lloyd-Jones, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557145.

English composer Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) wrote tone poems in the first half of the twentieth century. Whether he called them “symphonies” or not, they were either genuine tone poems or collections of tone poems strung together into longer symphonic works. The two compositions represented on this disc illustrate the point: his final symphony, the Seventh Symphony (1939), and his most-famous short piece, Tintagel (1919).

Tintagel, of course, is Bax’s depiction of the rocky precipice on the west coast of Cornwall that mythologists and researchers think may have been the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. Whether it really was Arthur’s birthplace or whether there really was a King Arthur is beside the point; Tintagel, the place, really exists. Like the actual location, the short, symphonic tone picture is all about rugged seascapes, craggy cliffs, and splashes of ocean spray. It’s a wonderfully evocative bit of music, which Maestro Lloyd-Jones exploits nicely. However, Tingagel tends to upstage the disc’s main attraction, the Symphony No. 7, which sounds a mite lightweight by comparison in its gentle Romanticism, as well as sounding somewhat imitative of Bax’s earlier work.

Anyhow, as I say, David Lloyd-Jones, who finished up his complete Bax cycle for Naxos, again served the music well with this recording, although I thought his interpretation this time out was a tad on the soft, leisurely side. Tintagel, especially, has more bite, more luster, and a more rough-and-tumble vigor in the hands of conductors Bryden Thomson (Chandos) and Sir Adrian Boult (Lyrita). What’s more, those recordings sound better, have greater range, and more transparency than the slightly bland-sounding Naxos disc.

Needless to say, however, the Naxos disc has the advantage of price, which may be its strongest attraction. After all, if you’ve never heard Tintagel before, you might not want to spend the money on a full-price disc just to hear it. In any case, you can’t go far wrong with this Naxos disc, and if you do like it, you can check out the even better Thomson and Boult recordings (the Boult-Lyrita disc being among my favorite recordings of anything).


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa