Bax CD review

MARK BEBBINGTON'S NEW CD OF PIANO MUSIC BY BAX AND HARRIET COHEN

ARNOLD BAX & HARRIET COHEN PRIVATE PASSIONS: Bebbington (Somm Records SOMM 0193) *****

Arnold Bax looked like a melancholy bank clerk but was more like Don Giovanni in tweeds. His love affairs were numerous and he abandoned his wife and children for the pianist Harriet Cohen who became both lover and muse. His first symphony began life as an epic piano sonata in E flat major which here gets a stupendous performance from Mark Bebbington. The essential Bax, romantic fervour and Sibelius-style bardic breadth filtered though Celtic-fringe mysticism, is in the sonata's central Lento con molto espressione movement. Bebbington delivers it all, unsparing of himself and us, from the stygian bass to the hints of reconciliation and triumph that emerge in the finale. The recording, made at the CBSO Centre, captures the performance perfectly. Bax's Legend, In the Night and the edgy blackly humorous late Four Pieces – getting its first recording – are deliciously played. Cohen's Russian Impressions are slight, unidiomatic and make little impression.
Norman Stinchcombe

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