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It is a relief that both violinist and pianist have a cool approach to the music. Robert Gibbs has a lean rather than opulent tone, so that he can discipline Bax's passionate melismas and phrases that fall in love with their own emotions. If sometimes Gibbs' vibrato lacks variety, there is a welcome simplicity and integrity about the playing. Mary Mei-Loc Wu controls her welter of notes with commendable ease, and there is nothing in the performances to stand in the way of Bax's message. The Third Sonata dates from 1927, and it too is imbued with atmosphere from the west coast of Ireland. While it has clearly been invigorating for Irish literary men such as Wilde and Shaw to cross to England, and even Charles Stanford was the better for the move, it is far more dangerous for an Englishman to go in the other direction. This sonata consists of only two movements, but there is no suggestion of the economy or indeed parsimony that afflicted other composers of the time [listen -- track 6, 0:32-1:14].

The violin sonata in F opens with an ostinato that surely outstays its welcome. The repeated phrase is not long enough to have any structural function, but serves only to draw obsessive attention to itself. In a sense the most interesting fact about the sonata is that Bax transformed it after two years into his Nonet of 1930. Rightly he realised that the plethora of notes could be displayed more effectively on nine instruments rather than two. The thematic material has Bax's high-charged lyricism, even if none of the tunes will find a permanent place in the memory. Again there is galvanic energy to set the second-movement Allegro on its way [listen -- track 8, 1:35-2:23]. Despite Bax's later wisdom, it is good to hear the original version of the work, now recorded for the first time.

Copyright © 3 November 2001 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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