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Bax Piano Music Vols 2 & 3 (Ashley Wass)

BAX: Piano Sonatas Nos. 3 and 4 / Water Music / Winter Waters/ Country Tune/ O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies

Naxos 8.557592

Ashley Wass's latest release maintains the excellent impression made by Vol 1 of this ongoing series; Naxos encourages their signed-up musicians to record what they'd like to and think they can do best.

With Franck and Bax Vol 1 (the first two sonatas) behind him I was pleased that Sonata No 4 shows a different face - less prolix, more xxx in accord with the mood of the '30s. On first hearing I thought the first movement of No 3 indulgent and inclined to ramble, but I was caught by the spell Bax and Wass wove in the slow movement and it held me to the end. I must hear that first movement again...... Again there are shorter pieces in various moods.

With learned and always interesting background and analysis by Lewis Foreman, and fine recording at Potton Hall (good that Naxos allowed Wass three whole days there) this CD is self recommending, and persuaded me easily to take more seriously repertoire which is outside my usual fare.

Bax Piano Music Vol 3

Princess’s Rose Garden, A Hill Tune, Lullaby etc.

Naxos 8.557769

This has now been released and collectors will want to acquire Asley Wass's selection of shorter pieces, "atmospheric miniatures (some not so miniature) - - in the shadow of Scriabin & Debussy".

Not a fashionable composer, and his sonatas too hard for amateurs, Bax has a substantial following nowadays. I was especially delighted to find the variations A Mountain Mood which I have loved and continued playing, since coming across a copy in my teens.

This has been a useful "niche-specialism" and it is good that younger pianists (abetted by Naxos) are not restricting themselves to the war-horses which have been recorded too often. What will Asley Wass explore next?

Sir Arnold Bax: Piano Works 4 - Music for Two Pianos

Naxos: 8570413

Festival Overture. The Poisoned Fountain. Moy Mell - an Irish Tone Poem. Sonata for 2 Pianos. The Devil that tempted St Anthony. Red Autumn. Hardanger.

Ashley Wass & Martin Roscoe

What will Asley Wass explore next?

We have to wait a little longer to find out! He has now (August 2007) rounded off his Bax piano music survey withthe release of two-piano music, written mostly in the late 1920s for the husband and wife piano duet team of Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson.

A famously proficient pianist, Bax used to enjoy playing at sight full scores, often for opera rehearsals, sometimes in duo with York Bowen. This music is often very orchestral in sound, with a plethora of notes and no obvious separation as to who plays what. The textures are rich and the harmonic idiom chromatic with a lot of evocative pedalling. The inspirations are literary and often responses to landscape also figure.

Pleasant undemanding listening; collectors of the solo recordings will want to add this one, beautifully played and recorded as usual.

Bax Violin Sonatas & Bax & Bridge Piano Quintets

Ashley Wass
(piano), Lawrence Jackson violin, Tippett Quartet
Naxos 8.572474

Having establshed a niche with British composers of the 20th C, and particularly Bax's solo (and duo) piano music, he has now moved on and a recent release is of violin sonatas with Lawrence Jackson. The 2nd, which reflects the composer’s thoughts about the First World War is very strong. Another one for Bax completists to acquire.

In 2010, Ashley Wass's discography continues to grow steadily (he was the first musician to sign an exclusive contract with Naxos). The big 40-mins Bax piano quintet, from c 1914-15, is an important contribution to a neglected genre, one that ought not to have sunk into oblivion.

Bridge's quintet (1904/rvd. 1912) is equally worth a hearing, and the two would make a fine recital pairing, say at the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts?

This disc is superbly recorded by Michael Ponder at a church in Chalk Farm, London.

Long may this fruitful series continue!

Peter Grahame Woolf



© Peter Grahame Woolf