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Bax: Piano Sonatas No 3 & 4, Etc / Ashley Wass

Release Date: 05/17/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557592   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

It’s a shame Arnold Bax, arch-Romantic that he was, isn’t better known for his piano music. Like Rachmaninoff and Medtner, he often thought of the piano in orchestral terms, both as a medium in its own right and as a sounding board for his ensemble works; and the music he composed for it is often as inspired and strikingly colorful as any tone poem or symphony he ever wrote.

Consider the Third Piano Sonata: completed in 1926, it was written between the Second and Third Symphonies. It is a richly emotive work in Bax’s typically paradoxical manner that intimately confides the most theatrically extravagant of feelings. With a stormily affective first movement, a lyrical lento moderato, and a passionate finale, the sonata gives
Read more us the composer at inspirational floodtide. It lacks the steel grimness that extends its powerful reach across the Piano Sonata No. 2, but is otherwise its equal, and well worth hearing. I’m not as convinced by the opening allegro giusto of the Fourth Piano Sonata, lighter in texture but flawed by an annoyingly bumptious first theme. Still, the second movement is a bewitching piece that has Bax clasping hands with Borodin; not all that surprising, given the British composer’s predilection for Russian classical music. Much the same criticism as I had for the first movement applies to the last, except that the darkly reflective second theme and its subsequent development is again Bax at his best.

The two sonatas are balanced on this release by a series of four short works presenting far more than the usual chip off the compositional workbench. Winter Waters is a somber miniature tone poem written during WW I and subtitled “Tragic Landscape.” Bax keeps the violence churning beneath a murky, active surface, in a piece that would have made a very effective orchestral work if it were only less pianistic in development. Water Music is actually a selection from Bax’s ballet, The Truth about the Russian Dancers, and easily the most memorable thing in a score more notable for its ability to change mood and direction in a candle’s flicker than sustain any musical idea. It is a very good tune, worked out to great advantage.

The main theme in Country-Tune is English, to be sure, but it’s given a few harmonic and melodic twists that again recall the Russian Nationalists, before being sent home to the Land of Constant but Temperate Rain. O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies is late Bax: 1945, with an air of Butterworth about it, an impression of leisurely variation drawing upon a creative spring without visible terminus. It flowed more slowly for the composer in his later years, but in short pieces like this and the Oliver Twist music, and longer works such as his Wind Concertante, Bax proved he had more to say, and with eloquence, too.

This is the second volume of an expected complete series of Bax’s piano music featuring Ashley Wass, the first British pianist to win first prize at the World Piano Competition (1997). It’s something of a coup for Naxos to acquire the services of this young, extremely talented musician in music for which he possesses both an obvious affinity and commitment. He displays an excellent technique, great self-confidence, a sense of showmanship, and a clear set of ideas about how these works should be performed. The allegro quasi Andante middle movement of the Fourth sonata (marked “very delicate throughout”) finds Wass delicate indeed, offering a refined dynamic palette matched to judicious tempos and a transparent tone. Yet, as the finale to the Piano Sonata No. 3 demonstrates, he’s equally capable of indulging Bax’s pleasure in a broad canvas, awash in more colors than I’ve heard from any new pianist in some time...

Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 3 in G sharp minor by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; England 
Length: 33 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 4 in G major by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; England 
Length: 20 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Water Music by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; England 
Length: 6 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Winter Waters by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Length: 6 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Country-Tune by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Variations for Piano on "O dame get up and bake your pies" by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 49 Secs. 

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