Arnold Bax remains more popular within the British Isles than beyond them, and these three works qualify as Bax rarities. They don't achieve the confluence of mythic Romanticisim and personal emotion that marks his best works, and it would seem that those already enthusiastic about this unclassifiable composer--not quite Impressionist, not quite Romantic conservative or proto-cinematic, not quite Pastoral--will be the primary audience. This said, all three of these pieces are nicely executed, with conductor Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic alert to Bax's many superb touches of orchestration. The Four Orchestral Pieces, an early work that has never been recorded before. They're among the Europhilic Bax's most Irish pieces, depicting Irish landscapes and scenes (the word "Irravel" in the finale was made up by the composer), and they're colorful and lively works. The Phantasy for viola and orchestra, composed in 1920 for violist Lionel Tertis, is a worthwhile addition to the sparse solo viola literature, and the Overture, Elegy, and Rondo (1927) is an orchestral tour de force, brilliantly rendered here. For Bax fans or lovers of British orchestral music, there is nothing to complain about here, and the album may be worth the price of admission for the notes by Lewis Foreman, both erudite and accessible.
Arnold Bax: Phantasy; Four Orchestral Pieces; Overture, Elegy & Rondo Review
by James Manheim