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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The earliest works here are the Two Russian Tone Poems, the Nocturne – May Night in the Ukraine and Gopak, written in 1912. They are inventive and atmospheric, as are most of the pieces here. The annotations by Bax’s biographer, Lewis Foreman, are very helpful and highly interesting. What a fine pianist this young artist is!

Jed Distler, December 2006

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.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, March 2006

SLIMMING DOWN: The big-boned, outdoorsy symphonies of English composer Arnold Bax (1883-1953) have had at least three complete recordings, all admirable. And the first two volumes of Ashley Wass' survey of Bax's piano music, dominated by four hefty sonatas, have gotten good notices in Gramophone. But to these ears the shorter tone poems and character pieces here are more appealing than the heavy-weather sonatas.

IRISH ACCENT: Bax was much enamored of Ireland and the Celtic Twilight movement of William Butler Yeats et al. While some may dismiss these pieces as salon music, they're delightful mixes of charm and whimsy — as if Schumann were updated and transported to the land of leprechauns and legendary yarn-spinners.

ROMANCE: Two Russian Tone Poems betray Bax's infatuation with Russian ballerinas, but most of these pieces were written for English pianist Harriet Cohen, with whom Bax had the most lasting of his extramarital liaisons. But the 1915 "Sleepy-Head" was dedicated to his soon-to-be ex-wife.

UNSETTLED: All is not sweetness and light, though. What the Minstrel Told Us, at 11 minutes the longest piece here, was written in the shadow of World War I and Ireland's 1916 Easter Uprising, in which Bax lost a number of friends. The tale told is unsettling.

BOTTOM LINE: Charming music, admirably played and recorded. If the Bax bug bites, try the two previous Naxos volumes, which also include other short pieces.

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