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Bax: Piano Works / Ashley Wass


Release Date: 02/21/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557769   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BAX The Princess’s Rose Garden. What the Minstrel Told Us. A Mountain Mood. The Maiden with the Daffodil. Paean. A Hill Tune. Mediterranean. 2 Russian Tone Pictures. Lullaby. Sleepy-Head Ashley Wass (pn) NAXOS 8.557769 (65:57)


The cover of this CD—Volume 3 in Naxos’s Bax piano series—offers a reproduction of The Rose Pergola , a charming Victorian canvas by a minor turn-of-the-century specialist in garden paintings, Ernest Arthur Rowe (1862–1922). Read more Attractive, but hardly informative—for there is little in Bax’s aesthetic to match the sweetness of Rowe’s idyllic vision.


Granted, Bax was not at his most distinctive when penning miniatures, and his smaller piano pieces lack the rugged grandeur of his massive sonatas, not to mention his symphonies and tone poems. Granted, too, some of these pieces (including The Maiden with the Daffodil , one of the first works he wrote under the erotic spell of pianist Harriet Cohen) catch Bax at his most calmly reflective. Still, Lullaby is harmonically more troubled than you might expect, just as the sleepwaltzing in Sleepy-Head has its share of anxious undercurrents. An even greater uneasiness haunts The Princess’s Rose Garden , another work inspired by Cohen: while it has a certain impressionist languor that may call to mind some of Debussy’s gentler works, it also has, beneath its gorgeous surface, a darker tremor of typically Baxian pain. And few of these pieces—say, the rough Graingerian Paean and, even more, What the Minstrel Told Us , possibly inspired by the Easter Uprising—reflect Bax at his most powerful.


Wass’s playing on the two earlier installments has been praised by Colin Anderson (28:3) and, more strongly still, by Barry Brenesal (29:1)—and I share their positive assessment: whether in the hard, obsessive repetitions of Paean , the hauntingly winding melodies of the Nocturne (the first of the Russian Tone Pictures ), the harmonic pang of What the Minstrel Told Us , in the prismatic colors of The Maiden with the Daffodil , or the uncharacteristically breezy swing of Mediterranean , he captures the rich variety of the music with unfailing conviction, holding together even the most improvisatory of these pieces with his firm sense of line. The sound is good, too, and Lewis Foreman’s notes are excellent. Warmly recommended.


FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz


Having admirably survived Bax's discursive piano sonatas, Ashley Wass devotes all of his third volume of this composer's piano works to relatively smaller-scaled fare. Actually, the opening selection, What the Minstrel Told Us, times out to 11 minutes. The outer sections feature a bardic melody gently supported by slow moving, impressionistic chords and arpeggiated figures, while a middle section develops this material more agitatedly. Wass summons up all the tone color and sustaining power needed to convey the orchestral sensibility of the piano writing.

He plays the nocturne-like Princess's Rose Garden a bit straighter than Eric Parkin's more garishly-voiced Chandos recording, yet he shapes the chromatic motives with plenty of affection. By contrast, Wass doesn't clarify A Hill Tune's left-hand melodic content and right-hand accompaniment to Parkin's more fluid distinction. However, he scores with more rhythmic snap in the Spanish-tinged Mediterranean and renders the Gopak steadier, sharper, yet slightly slower in contrast to Parkin's brisker, looser approach. In short, collectors who've enjoyed Wass' previous Bax discs also will find this well-recorded, superbly annotated release to their liking. I look forward to this cycle's fourth and final volume.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. What the minstrel told us by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 11 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
2. A Mountain Mood by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
3. The Maiden with the Daffodil by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 4 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
4. Paean by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920/1938; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
5. A Hill Tune by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 4 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
6. Mediterranean by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920-1922; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
7. The Princess's Rose Garden by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 7 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
8. Russian Tone Pictures (2): Nocturne "May Night in the Ukraine" by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 10 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
9. Russian Tone Pictures (2): Gopak "National Dance" by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 6 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
10. Lullaby by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 4 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 
11. Sleepy-head by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Ashley Wass (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Notes: Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (01/17/2005 - 01/19/2005) 

Sound Samples

What the Minstrel Told Us: What the Minstrel told us
A Mountain Mood
The Maiden with the Daffodil
Paean
A Hill Tune
Mediterranean
The Princess's Rose Garden
2 Russian Tone Pictures: No. 1. May Night in the Ukraine
2 Russian Tone Pictures: No. 2. Gopak
Lullaby
Sleepy-Head: Sleepy Head

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