About this Recording
8.223102 - BAX: Sinfonietta / Overture, Elegy and Rondo

Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

Arnold Edward Trevor Bax was born in a south London suburb in November 1883. When he was twelve his parents moved to a rambling mansion called 'Ivy Bank' in the leafy north London suburb of Hampstead and this house with its extensive gardens provided a protected background for the affluent young Baxes' development. Sixteen years their father's junior, their mother dominated the development of Arnold and his brother Clifford Bax, the latter to achieve celebrity between the wars as a writer and playwright.

The brothers were free of the necessity of getting a job and while not lavish in their tastes they pursued their artistic aspirations free of all economic constraints until the First War ended what Arnold referred to as 'the ivory tower of my youth'. He was not only soaking up all that was then new in music – Strauss, Debussy, Rimsky Korsakov and Scriabin – but also was completely swept up in the artistic turmoil generated by Diaghilev's ballets russes, who first appeared in London in 1911.

Ultimately Bax found himself confronted by the real world. During his early years he had become passionately involved with things Irish and the reality of the Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916 caused him to react with 'painful intensity of emotion' for among those facing British troops were personal friends. He did not see military service during the Great War but a succession of personal crises resulted in his life being totally changed. In particular his fast-growing passion for the young pianist Harriet Cohen led him to reject wife (he had married in 1911) and children for her.

After 1918 Bax was uniquely placed to establish himself on the musical scene with the large number of substantial scores he had written during the war and he quickly became known as one of the biggest British composer of the day, a reputation underlined by his First Symphony in 1922. Later in the 1920s Bax gradually lost momentum (though this was not realised by his admirers at the time).

The late 1920s and early 'thirties found Bax looking to develop his musical style and at this time he wrote a number of works (such as the Northern Ballads) which inform the later symphonies to come but which were not promoted by Bax at the time, and only recently has their stature become apparent. Both the works on this record might be described as 'Sinfonietta' and each is worthwhile in its individual way, though almost unknown to present day audiences.

Bax's last symphony, his Seventh, dates from 1938-9. It was really his last significant work, for during his last years he composed little, though he became very well-known for two film scores, Malta GC and Oliver Twist. Delightful though they are, they are not the music by which a composer of stature may be judged and it is only with the wider appreciation of his many orchestral works (84 Bax scores require the orchestra) that we can at last see him for the significant and individual figure that he is – at least in British music.

Sinfonietta (Symphonic Phantasy)
I Alla breve: Molto moderato – Allegro deciso
II Tempo primo – Andante con moto
III Allegro – Trionfale

Bax wrote this one-movement, three sectioned, work in May 1932 and called it "Symphonic Phantasy". He put it away and did not offer it for performance. Later he referred to it as his Sinfonietta and it was listed thus in his catalogue of works. Its only performance prior to this recording was during the BBC's Bax Centenary programmes when a number of revivals and first performances were given.

Although not encompassing the scale of his symphonies, this music has a special personality all its own and most of Bax's most characteristic fingerprints may be found in it. In its variety and colourful and ever changing orchestral textures it quickly absorbs one into Bax's varied and suddenly changing moods.

The music plays continually, the opening theme acting as something of a motto, returning in the middle section, while the dramatic fast passage which follows contains the seeds of the ideas used in the closing section. As in the Rondo of the other score on this disc, this last movement reflects the end of Bax's emotional spectrum, throwing the more sombre and reflective earlier sections into sharp relief, though occasionally the music starts to slip into a more brooding mood. Quickly it all changes into fast music marked gaily before the triumphal climax with which it ends.

Overture, Elegy and Rondo
This work dates from the summer of 1927 and thus falls between Bax's Second Symphony and the Northern Ballads and Third Symphony in Bax's output. Dedicated to his friend Eugene Goossens it was first heard in a Queen's Hall Promenade Concert conducted by Sir Henry Wood in October 1929. Although published in 1938, the stock of scores was later destroyed in a fire at his publisher's and it has never been widely available.

The opening Overture has occasionally been heard on its own, detached from the complete work, and in its opening theme Bax comes the nearest he ever came (not very near) to encompassing the then fashionable neo-classicism. He described this opening passage as 'suggestive of an 18th century concerto', but the long dreamy middle-section melody is pure Bax. The central Elegy opens in a mood that Bax described as being 'a little spectral', and after a climax leads us to quiet music which Bax wants played 'in the manner of a cradle song'. The finale is extrovert, inhabiting the orchestral style used by the British light-music composers of the period, such as Sax's friend Eric Coates. The bright tune announced on the horns at the outset may bring Bax's Rhapsodic Ballad (1939) for solo cello to mind, but on comparison, the tune is much transformed in its translation from the full orchestra.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, established as a professional orchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in 1949, has won itself a considerable reputation during its relatively short existence.

Slovakia, which, with Bohemia and Moravia, became the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918, was the source of a great deal of music during the years of the Habsburg Empire. This musically fertile region has been influenced by Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian music and it is these influences that have given the Slovak Philharmonic, one of Europe's finest orchestras, its unique character. On its many international tours, and at festivals throughout Europe, the orchestra has been praised for its great musicality and has been compared by enthusiastic critics with such world-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talich (1949-1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek was appointed resident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor is the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorak.

During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, for example to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo Label. These recordings have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.

Barry Wordsworth
Barry Wordsworth's career has been dominated by his work for the Royal Ballet which started when he played the solo part in Frank Martin's Harpsichord Concerto, which was the score used by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for his ballet, Las Hermanas. In 1973 he became Assistant Conductor of the Royal Ballet's Touring Orchestra and in 1974 Principal Conductor of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet. He made his debut at Covent Garden conducting MacMillan's Manon in 1975 and since then has conducted there frequently.

Barry Wordsworth has toured extensively with the Royal Ballet, conducting orchestras in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Canada and Australia, where he has been guest conductor for Australian Ballet.

In 1987 while retaining his connection with both Royal Ballet Companies as guest conductor, Barry Wordsworth also worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC Concert and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. He also continued to work with New Sadlers Wells Opera, with whom he has recently recorded excerpts from Kalman's Countess Maritza and Lehar's The Count of Luxembourg and The Merry Widow. He has also recorded for the Naxos label (Smetana: Moldau & The Bartered Bride / Dvorak: Slavonic Dances).

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