Bax: Symphonies 2 & 5 / Fredman, Leppard, Lpo

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BAX Symphonies: No. 2; 1 No. 5 2 • Myer Fredman, cond; 1 Raymond Leppard, cond; 2 London PO • LYRITA 233 (78:28) Lyrita’s versions...

BAX Symphonies: No. 2; 1 No. 5 2 Myer Fredman, cond; 1 Raymond Leppard, cond; 2 London PO LYRITA 233 (78:28)

Lyrita’s versions of Bax’s First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies were, in my opinion, the most important recordings in their catalog, especially at the time of their release, because they introduced the remarkable output of a major symphonist to American listeners for the first time in modern sound. Three complete recorded cycles of Bax’s symphonies conducted by Vernon Handley and Bryden Thomson (Chandos) and David Lloyd-Jones (Naxos) have followed. This album containing the Second and Fifth Symphonies completes the CD release of Lyrita’s Bax Symphonies. The long wait has been worth it. First of all, the CD represents an incredible value, with two major symphonies adding up to nearly 80 minutes of music. In the Second Symphony, Bax calls for a huge orchestra including piano, organ, and a large but subtly applied percussion section. For the most part, aside from a few brief lyrical passages, the music sounds angry and threatening. The discrete and sparing use of the organ is dramatically effective. In the second movement, the organ pedal underlines the dark atmosphere before the luminous closing chords. At the climax of the third movement, Bax briefly unleashes the full power of the organ in a terrifying outburst that has to make you speculate as to what it means. The music then fades to a desolate conclusion marked niente (“nothing”).

The Fifth Symphony is dedicated to Sibelius. The opening theme is nearly a direct quote from the second movement of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. Bax then essentially evolves the thematic material of the whole symphony out of that single motific kernel. In the second movement, he briefly hints at expanding the Sibelius fragment into a lush Baxian melody, but the mood is transient. The third movement is a brilliantly orchestrated set of variations that culminates in Bax’s only fortissimo epilogue dominated by massed brass playing the motto theme. So, the Fifth Symphony is dedicated to Sibelius, nearly quotes a theme by Sibelius, is perhaps influenced by Sibelius, but ultimately sounds like Bax and no one else.

Myer Fredman and Raymond Leppard match Vernon Handley in his fine Chandos set at every point in these performances, but this Lyrita release has no peer because of its sound. The Second and Fifth Symphonies were respectively recorded in 1970 and 1971 in Walthamstow Hall in London. The engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson and Stanley Goodall) provide a nearly perfect reproduction of Bax’s unique and highly personal sound world. Dynamic range is massive, but there is no harshness or sense of strain. Instrumental balances are outstanding and there is no artificial spotlighting of individual instruments. The overall texture is lean and muscular, but it is rich and seductively sweet when necessary, as at the end of the second movement of the Symphony No. 2. This recording is clearly Want List material, along with the incomparable Bax Sixth Symphony on Lyrita 296 ( Fanfare: 31:5).

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 01, 2008

  • UPC: 5020926023322

  • Catalog Number: SRCD233

  • Label: Lyrita

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: ""

  • Composer: Arnold Bax

  • Conductor: Myer Fredman, Raymond Leppard

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Myer Fredman, Raymond Leppard


  1. Symphony no 2

    Composer: Arnold Bax

    Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra

    Conductor: Myer Fredman

  2. Symphony no 5

    Composer: Arnold Bax

    Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra

    Conductor: Raymond Leppard