Michael Endres

Arnold Bax: Complete Piano Sonatas

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Arnold Bax: Complete Piano Sonatas Review

by Blair Sanderson

It's often difficult to pin down precisely the cultural and musical influences in Arnold Bax's music, especially in his highly diffuse Piano Sonatas (4) and the Sonata in E flat major (later orchestrated as the First Symphony), because the mix of his thematic materials is complicated by his unusual mingling of styles. Bax's intensely personal music often seems like a colorful crazy quilt of post-Romantic chromaticism derived from Wagner, folksy pastoralism à la Vaughan Williams, and Impressionist moods not too far removed from Debussy or Scriabin. Here and there in the fabric of these long, involved, and difficult keyboard works are the much discussed Celtic and Nordic themes that Bax used, though they are quite hard to find unless stated simply, in contrast to the general profusion of notes. Not that the complexity displayed here takes anything away from enjoying the music: musicologists who like detective work may relish digging through Bax's scores for this folk tune or that stylistic trait, but most listeners will find the music much more pleasurable when they let it wash over them, without struggling to identify particulars. The sweep, color, and energy of these evocative works are perhaps their strongest selling points, and pianist Michael Endres interprets them with a broad scope and propulsive movement. These pieces are little known and comparatively under-recorded, so Endres conscientiously elevates them with powerful emotions and sterling technique, and makes them feel like true masterpieces that deserve much greater attention. Oehms' sound is warm, resonant, and well-suited to Bax's lush harmonies and Endres' rich sonorities.

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