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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Ideal late-night listening for a balmy summer evening: a collection of Bax chamber music centred around the harp. We have the Quintet for Harp and Strings played by an accomplished group called Mobius, who also perform the seductive Elegiac Trio for flute, viola and harp, the imaginative Fantasy Sonata for viola and harp and the Sonata for Flute and Harp.



Gilbert French
American Record Guide, February 2001

"In the Elegiac Trio for harp, viola, and flute, the Fantasy Sonata for viola and harp, and the Flute and Harp Sonata, the players, the instruments, and the engineering are appropriate. Pacing is flexible yet purposeful. Everything breathes naturally, like a living being responding to the events it encounters. Phrasing is outstanding. And lines are deeply expressive subtly shaded, and sustained right to the end. What gorgeous, rich tone colors violist Ashan Phillai creates! Flutist Lorna Mc-Ghee's richness, depth, and liquid style are just as striking, as are the ability of harpist Alison Nicholls to move from lead to accompanying rule without ever drawing attention to it. In fact, at some points, she makes her instrument sound as if it's another harp playing at a distance. On top of it all, engineers give the players warm, resonant, superbly balanced sound that's so natural you never have to reach for the volume control to make the softest moments as satisfying as the dynamic ones.

As for the works themselves, the Trio is a deeply lyrical, substantial, and poignant response to a friend's death in the 1916 Irish revolt (and, by the way, Bax wrote it before Debussy's sonata for the same instruments had its premiere). The Fantasy, filled with superb lyricism and harmony, is a bit like Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy in that, while it is a true sonata with a formal start and finish, it has the same of spontaneity and contrasting moods that flow naturally. The Sonata for flute and harp magically takes a folk-like introduction and transforms it into substantial sonata material.

The only weakness on the album is the performance of the Quintet for harp and strings. Engineers place the first violin in a space that has no ambiance, unlike the other instrument. With the excellent stereo spacing giving each player a clear spot on the spectrum, the result is that the first violin takes on an edge and a focus that seems close and unyielding and doesn't let the rest of the ensemble have its effect. Also, the first violinist doesn't have the subtlety and tonal depth of the other instruments. The performance here has more urgency than harpist Skaila Kanga and the English String Quartet's on Chandos, but the smoother sound and slower but superbly sustained Chandos performance has much more atmosphere and drama. Call this Quintet performance one with minor flaws in an otherwise superb album."



Heather Kurzbauer
The Strad, November 2000

"The British composer Arnold Bax was so enthralled with Ireland that he wrote poetry under an Irish pseudonym and incorporated Irish folk idioms into his numerous musical compositions. Undoubtedly the choice of harp as prominent instrument in his chamber music reflected the composer's predilection for Celtic elements. In a recent release by the mobius ensemble, Bax fans can revel in a novel selection of chamber music for harp, flute and strings.

"In the Elegiac Trio for harp, violin and flute, an early opus written to commemorate the tragedy of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, Bax spins melodious folk tunes into wistful impressionistic harmonies. The Trio of fine soloists from mobius's admirable retinue rises to the challenge of making musical sense out of nine minutes of highly emotionally charged music.

"Harp and viola are partners in the Fantasy Sonata, written almost a decade after the Elegiac Trio. Four movements meld together with only the slightest pause in a neo-Impressionistic wash of colour and sound. Violinist Ashan Pillai performs with remarkable elan. His ability to translate the harp's astonishing range of special effects into articulated string playing is particularly noteworthy.

"The least provocative of the selections presented, Bax's Quintet for harp and strings, composed at the end of the First World War, finds the composer at loose ends with his choice of instrumentation: the harp wavers between background filler material and accompanying arpeggios as the strings set forth boldly.

"Fortunately, the chamber music aficionados who form mobius are convinced of the legitimacy of their mission. Thanks to them, Bax is back with a vengeance that his Irish soulmates would truly appreciate."



Stephen Johnson
BBC Music Magazine, October 2000

"Some of the best Bax is here. In these atmospheric pieces he was able to throw off the fetters of inherited symphonic forms and allow his Celtic fantasy to pursue its own improvisatory course. The melodic writing is free and fertile. Bax's harp writing is especially poetic. Best of all is the short, moody Elegiac Trio. The Fantasy Sonata, for harp and viola, is remarkable for the way it holds the attention for well over 20 minutes; not easy with two such reticent instruments. The six musicians of Mobius play this music with feeling, imagination and energy, proof that harp music doesn't have to be all elfin and willowy."



Robert Layton
Classic FM, August 2000

"This is all beguiling music, whose neglect is quite puzzling. There are distinguished alternatives but none couples all together at such a competitive price."






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