Martin Roscoe / Ashley Wass

Bax: Music for Two Pianos

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Ashley Wass continues his recordings of Arnold Bax's piano music for Naxos with this volume of music for two pianos made with Martin Roscoe. This is only the second recording made of these particular works, and with Wass' and Roscoe's excellent performance, it's hard not to talk about the worthiness of the music. Some may think of it as imitative of Debussy and Ravel, but really, it is more in the vein of their style rather than merely copying it. Great washes of color and sound create pictures of nature, the sea, Celtic legends -- all themes found in much of his writing, as they are in Debussy. Bax wrote most of his two piano works for the husband and wife team Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson in the 1920s and '30s. A Festival Overture, which opens the disc, is the only work generally known in an orchestral version, but Bax originally wrote the jolly work with some quirky harmonies for two pianos. The sonata, usually a more structured, formal type of work, is just as picturesque as any of the other things here, all of which at their heart are tone poems for pianos. Within the fast-slow-fast movements, Bax paints with dappled sunlight and foamy waves. The final movement bears large similarities to the Rite of Spring, but is a more tonal and untroubled, much less savage, but no less vigorous dance. The central section of the Hardanger is more of a direct homage, this time to Grieg, with a melody that almost exactly matches one of those by the Norwegian. Being well aware of its evocative nature, Wass and Roscoe bring out all the imagery of the music without it being too Impressionistic, too lost in the mists or dreamy. The cascades of the Poisoned Fountain are glistening, but also very evidently hiding a malevolent secret. This, the almost nightmarish The Devil That Tempted St. Anthony, and the at times cold and blustery Red Autumn show that Bax was capable of more than just carefree nature studies and are carefully placed in the program to offset the brighter pieces. Wass and Roscoe are very well matched performers, both in their brilliant playing and in their affinity for Bax, and the recording very well made, so that there is a very unified sound between the pianos. It all enables Wass and Roscoe to reintroduce some neglected music to the larger audience it deserves in a completely flattering fashion.

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