AOM Logo April 2000

A Fistful of Naxos

Anthony Kershaw

Symphony No. 1; In the Faery Hills; The Garden of Fand
Arnold Bax
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.553525

The chronological beginning of Naxos' Arnold Bax symphony cycle has started with great promise with Bax's Eb Symphony receiving a fine performance from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones. What must undeniably be a new experience for the players, emerges as a performance of stature inspired by the extrovert musical expression. As such, the 1st Symphony delivers its special qualities (exuberant melodies and inspired orchestration) as much on first hearing as the last. Kudos to Naxos for bringing this somewhat neglected music to market. On this account, Lloyd-Jones and company will give the much-lauded Chandos Bax cycle (LPO/Bryden Thompson) a run for its money. Also included are two famous works, the tone poems In the Faery Hills and the exquisite The Garden of Fand. More richness and beauty to be heard through the light of a fine recording by the Naxos team. Bravo.

Symphony No. 3; The Happy Forest
Arnold Bax
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.553608

A wonderful performance of the fine 3rd Symphony of Arnold Bax and a superb The Happy Forest tone poem gain this new Naxos release entry into's "The A List". The trifecta of great music, performance and recording are alive and well and living confortably together in this stunner of a release. The symphony is vintage Bax, with dark, brooding orchestration happily sliced with shafts of bright light. The light continues in The Happy Forest, a tone poem of great charm, highlighting Bax's remarkable powers of orchestration. The flutes and trumpets of the orchestra are especially wonderful in the subtle transitions of this great piece.

The recording of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (conducted by David Lloyd Jones) is remarkable in its wide and deep soundstage (from Glasgow's Henry Wood hall), and the timbral beauty (and accuracy) of all the instrumental families. Well worth your seven bucks, I would think!

Symphony No 3 (1873 Original Version, ed. Nowak)
Anton Bruckner
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Georg Tintner
Naxos 8.553454

Bruckner's much underrated 3rd Symphony is given a wonderfully fresh and profound reading by Georg Tintner and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Tintner has chosen the original version to record, yet a version still given the once over by Bruckner's disciple, Leopold Nowak. The playing of the Scottish orchestra is first-rate and bears comparison with some of the finest performances at full price. Tintner (who died recently from a tragic fall) interprets beautifully, making the long lines from the pen of Bruckner sing with passion or deep reflection.

The recording, from Glasgow's Henry Wood Hall, is reverberant, and yet still maintains considerable detail in both bass and treble. At times, the highest violins touch an early-digital nerve, but for the most part, sound rich and smooth, as does the rest of the orchestra.

I have not been too kind to some of this series of Bruckner recordings, but this great Third can stand head and shoulders with the recently released Ninth, and a little above the fine Seventh. Such glorious music demands excellence in conducting, performance and recording. Naxos has delivered on all counts.

Clarinet Concerto; Five Bagatelles; Three Soliloquies; Severn Rhapsody; Romance; Introit
Gerald Finzi
Robert Plane, clarinet; Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Howard Griffiths
Naxos 8.553566

The quite boomy acoustic in which these magnificent performances of Gerald Finzi's music were recorded, is the only caveat stopping this new Naxos CD from placement on "The A List". For in these performances, one will find playing on an exalted level, with demonstrations of elegiac British playing at its formidable best. The centerpiece of the release is a beautiful performance by Andrew Planes of Finzi's lovely Clarinet Concerto. This is followed by an equally radiant performance of the Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and piano, here in Lawrence Ashmore's treatment for clarinet and strings.

The strings and solo woodwinds of Newcastle's fine Northern Sinfonia get their share of the limelight with lovely performances of Three Soliloquies and A Severn Rhapsody, conducted with sensitivity and care for tone and style by Howard Griffiths. Warm autumnal feelings abound interrupted just occasionally by burgeoning passion. At Naxos' price, this release is necessary in any collection.

Symphonies Nos. 3 and 9
Alexander Glazunov
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Anissimov
Naxos 8.554253

This is a real find. The Third Symphony demonstrates Glazunov's gift for melody, with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra sounding the notes idiomatically. The one-movement Ninth, however, is a stunning work of profound beauty. It is heard here in an orchestration by Gavril Yudin. Alexander Anissimov draws playing of delicacy and power from the orchestra, with special praise for the superb trombones and piccolo. Everytime these players have their moments, something magical happens. Find this CD amongst the always-crowded Naxos section, and savour every note.

Violin Concerto - Mendelssohn; Prelude and Good Friday Spell from Parsifal - Wagner
Jascha Heifetz, violin; NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini
Naxos Historical 8.110817

Richard Caniell has done a fine job restoring this 1944 concert from Studio 8H in New York City. To hear Jascha Heifetz' live music making is a real thrill. His technique is so assured, his tuning so flawless, that he leaves the listener quite breathless. So it goes with the Mendelssohn Concerto, with a performance so fleet of foot, even the old speed merchant, Toscanini, has difficulty keeping pace. Recorded balance is way in favour of the soloist, but with playing such as this, I did not mind. A wonderful example of Heifetz' art, and not to be missed.

Sadly, one may miss the Wagner. Phrasing is square and the performance lags, partly due to the dry-as-a-bone acoustic. With no bloom and very little bass energy (both sorely needed in this opulent music), the performance is quashed from the beginning. For ardent Toscanini admirers only.

Gran Partita, K. 361; Divertimento in D major, K. 205
German Wind Soloists; Capella Istropolitana, conducted by Richard Edlinger
Naxos 8.553226

This new Mozart recording offers serviceable performances for a bargain price. The magnificent Gran Partita receives some fine playing from the German Soloists (of which nothing is written in the notes). However, the interpretation, if compared to the finer versions, is unimaginative (try the full price Harnoncourt on Teldec and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on DGG to hear this masterpiece played in its glory).

The Divertimento's charms are hidden somewhat by the square phrasing of the Capella Istropolitana. Conductor Richard Edlinger coaxes a decent second-tier performance, resembling nothing more than a Vienna Philharmonic Monday morning run-through.

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