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Bax: Violin Sonatas No 1 & 3 / Jackson, Wass

Release Date: 10/31/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557540   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley WassLaurence Jackson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Bax-Naxos chamber music series continues apace. Having recently reviewed the viola music – including the Sonata, Legend, Concert-Piece and the Trio for violin, viola and piano (see review) – we now turn to the first volume of the violin sonatas. Both Jackson, who recorded the Trio, and Wass, who’s recorded the sonatas, are by now Bax regulars. Potton Hall is an established recording base for Naxos and one familiar to both men.

Various pairings have tackled the First Sonata. In recent years Gruenberg and McCabe have recorded it on Chandos and the Robert Gibbs-Mary Mei-Loc Wu partnership have done so similarly for ASV. Back in 1965 Henry Holst and Frank Merrick recorded it, as they did the second and third. It’s been
Read more recently released on Concert Artist where the First is coupled with Delius’s Second Sonata (see review).

The Third Sonata has had a much less productive time. Holst and Merrick recorded it but after them no one until Gibbs and Mary Mei-Loc Wu did so. Historically minded collectors will know that a fragmentary 1936 BBC performance given by May Harrison and Charles Lynch has survived and can be found on Symposium 1075. Collectors only though as there are damaging gaps.

The new recordings naturally suffer no such indignity. The balance between instruments is fine and the recording location acoustic has been acutely judged. These are fine conditions in which to perform and record. Though it opens with a strangely Delian theme the Jackson-Wass duo catch the First Sonata’s turbulent drama with a fine ear for the lyricism and strangeness. Wass underscores the piano’s curious otherness from 6:00 in the first movement, bringing out a full complement of emotion. Jackson plays with well-calibrated intelligence. He doesn’t possess the big tone of Gruenberg or the astringent one of Holst; he’s rather more like Robert Gibbs in that respect, but he colours his tonal reserves with vivid imagination. Together the two stretch out the reflective lyricism that ends the first movement but without ever breaching structural bounds. And how well they obey the instructions in the poco più lento of the second movement, which is despatched with real feeling. The finale has the requisite serenity at 5:20 and also enough of the folkloric – Ukrainian flecks the last movement as much as Irish does earlier.

There’s a significant bonus of the original second and third movements, discarded by Bax. The slow movement is highly expressive. Lewis Foreman suspects a Baxian feint when the composer condemned it to May Harrison as “juvenile” – it certainly isn’t that but the rather hobbly dance enshrined within is more than a touch unconvincing. The discarded Allegro is best in the tolling bass of the piano in its slow section. This acts as a galvanising call to arms and anticipates some real fireworks, not least from the hard-pressed pianist. These are both world premiere recordings and need to be on the shelves of all Baxians.

The Third Sonata hasn’t fared so well as the companion sonata. It’s not hard to see why, as superficially it’s a less ingratiating work. But persevere and the rewards are considerable. Foreman notes that Henry Holst played it, as did Harrison - but Sammons also promoted it. Jackson blanches his tone especially finely in the first of the two movements and Wass insinuates ominous tread as well. The Rite of Spring elements that haunt the second movement are made rather explicit in this performance, as well as those oases of lyricism that form the central section. There’s a very ardent curve to the Baxian cantabile here.

The Naxos series has continued its devotion to Bax with impressive results. You need the previously unrecorded sonata movements if you’re serious about the composer. And the performances are eloquent and impressive. Next up will be the second and fourth sonatas.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in E major by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano), Laurence Jackson (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 32 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Notes: Version: 1945
Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (12/04/2004 - 12/06/2004)
Composition written: England (1910).
Composition revised: 1915.
Composition revised: 1920.
Composition revised: England (1945). 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in E major: Slow and sombre [original second movement] by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Laurence Jackson (Violin), Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 11 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (12/01/2005 - 12/04/2005) 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in E major: Allegro molto vivace [original third movement] by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Laurence Jackson (Violin), Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 11 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (12/01/2005 - 12/04/2005) 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Laurence Jackson (Violin), Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 20 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (12/01/2005 - 12/04/2005) 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A Fine Recording January 8, 2018 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Arnold Bax composed in a number of different genres, and I have found all of them attractive and worthwhile. On this Naxos disk from 2006 are found excellent examples of Bax's approach to chamber music- Violin Sonata # 1 from 1910 and Violin Sonata # 3 from 1927. I found them to be highly personal, introspective, and thoroughly enjoyable compositions that have that essential 'British' touch that generally distinguishes English music from Continental European works. The CD notes tell us that Sonata # 1 reflects a romantic affair which Bax had, while Sonata # 3's core message relates to Bax's affection for a part of the British Isles that he loved- Ireland. These are nice to know details, but I think that these wonderful works can simply be enjoyed for what they are- finely crafted pieces of chamber music. Violinist Laurence Jackson and pianist Ashley Wass perform these sonatas with empathy, commitment, and obvious admiration for the composer. As an attractive bonus, the disk also includes 2 movements which Bax had originally planned for Sonata # 1, but subsequently rejected. Overall, this is an outstanding recording, well engineered by Naxos and superbly performed. Definitely recommended." Report Abuse
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