I used to have a favorite recording of the Bax Fifth Symphony in the old LP days, one by Raymond Leppard on Lyrita as I recall, long since gone, a casualty of the CD era. It's been some time since I last heard the work, and, frankly, I didn't remember much of it after thirty-odd years. But I knew after listening to David Lloyd-Jones's rendition on this modestly priced Naxos issue that I still like it, especially in its newer and more dramatic aural setting.
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) was a contemporary of Vaughan Williams, and the public considered both men natural successors to Edward Elgar as deans of twentieth-century British music. Bax took an early liking to the poetry of W.B. Yeats and Celtic mythology, and much of Bax's music reflects the imagery and atmosphere of Celtic legend. However, his Fifth Symphony, often considered the best (and, surely, the most popular) of the seven symphonies he completed, is a little different in that he said his biggest influence was the Nordic moods of Sibelius. Bax premiered the Fifth in 1934 under the baton of one of Sibelius's champions, Sir Thomas Beecham, but David Lloyd-Jones does an admirably fine job bringing out the music's color as well.
Coupled with the Fifth is one of Bax's many tone poems, a sixteen-minute composition with the inconvenient title, "The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew." Inconvenient because it tends to make the piece seem like a children's story, which it most pointedly is not. It is, in fact, a miniature of the Fifth Symphony, with the same kind of craggy rhythms, rugged harmonies, and moody reflections.
Done up as sympathetically as it is by Maestro Lloyd-Jones, whose Scottish forces must have this music in their blood, the entire album is hard to resist. Then there's Naxos's sound, which is equally big and dramatic, with plenty of weight, and you get more than a measure of your money's worth. If you like the music of Bax, this disc is well worth considering.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: