Recording of October 1974: Bax Symphony No.5

Bax: Symphony No.5 in c sharp
London Philharmonic Orchestra; Raymond Leppard, conductor.
Musical Heritage Society MHS-1652 (LP, From Lyrita SRCS-58).

Sir Arnold Bax (1883–1953) completed his fifth symphony in 1932 and dedicated it to Sibelius. Its first performance was conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1934. Have any of our major orchestras ever played it? Not to my knowledge, and after over 40 years, it's about time. At least we have it on disc now, in addition to The Garden of Fand and Tintagel. Lyrita has even more Bax in their catalog.

By now, Raymond Leppard's name should be familiar to record buyers. Somewhat controversial among purists for his versions of works of 16th- and 17th-century composers, Leppard can always be relied upon for a musical performance that has life and breath. The London Philharmonic plays beautifully under Leppard's direction in a fine acoustical setting (North London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall in February 1971).

Perhaps the rhapsodic nature of this symphony and of Bax's output in general can be gleaned from this quote from the 1954 Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians: "Bax's two main characteristics are his feeling for poetic beauty of line...and his use of a kind of harmonic arabesque, constantly varied, to enrich his texture." MHS has apparently reproduced the original Lyrita sound quite faithfully. The first movement has moments of particularly fine brass sound, and the lower strings here and throughout the work have a clarity and definition rarely heard on a recording. Balances throughout are excellent also. A highly recommended disc and a good introduction to Bax.

Incidentally, there was a good article on Raymond Leppard in the February 1974 issue of Stereo Review, and you can find out more about the composer from the book Arnold Bax, by Scott-Sutherland (published 1973 by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London).—William Marsh

dalethorn's picture

It's good that you repost the older reviews like this. I was able to secure a download from PrestoClassical UK. I've seen two claims of when it was recorded - 1970 and 1972, but apparently the downloads I purchased are from a 2008 digital remaster. I can't be sure at this point, but there might not have been a digital edition between the 1970's and 2008.

Edit: The 16/44 FLAC download sounds pretty good - the original tapes must have been well cared for.

Graham Luke's picture

Sir Arnold Bax (1833-1953) provides proof that music is clearly good for you and that humans can live well beyond their 100th birthday if they indulge...
The author may also be interested in the complete symphonic works of Bax recorded by the BBC Philarmonic under the guidance of Vernon 'Tod' Handley and available on the Chandos label. The music is superb and is available in a 24/96 FLAC format as well as 16/44.1

dalethorn's picture

1883, unless he lived to 120. BTW, I tried to purchase on Chandos, and their form allowed for U.S. addresses, but they wouldn't take my Visa card or Paypal either.

Graham Luke's picture

That's odd; I live in Australia and use a Visa debit card without any issues. Chandos is a UK based site as far as I know.

dalethorn's picture

I've had this happen before. Some sites use payment vendors (Sage Pay etc.) that clear through the U.S. and so on, and some don't. Unfortunately for me in this case, Presto had only a 16/44 download. The quality of the digital sound makes me wish I tried harder to find a 24/88 or 24/96.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
1883, unless he lived to 120.

Fixed. Thank you.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile