Bax Clarinet Sonatas; Piano Trio
Bax’s engaging Clarinet Sonata of 1934 has been lucky on disc, with distinguished versions from Janet Hilton, Emma Johnson and Michael Collins happily still adorning the catalogue. Robert Plane’s irreproachably alert and stylish account with Benjamin Frith leaves a similarly delightful impression. Plane’s timbre could hardly be more alluring and he strikes up a tangible rapport with Frith. The pleasures continue with the 1945-46 Piano Trio, Bax’s final chamber offering, which finds him at his most economical and relaxed. It gets a first-rate performance from the Gould Trio, who bring plenty of bite and sparkle to the rhythmically buoyant finale. In the wistful and brooding Folk-Tale (first performed in 1918) Alice Neary and Frith do full justice to what is an unexpectedly powerful eight-minute essay.
But what makes this generously timed Naxos CD essential listening are three world premiere recordings. Both the one-movement Sonata in E and Romance for clarinet and piano date from 1901 (Bax’s first year at the Royal Academy) and may well have been conceived as parts of a larger work. The 1906 ‘Trio in one movement for piano, violin and viola’ was the first extended score Bax deemed worthy for publication, a decision he later regretted (he described it as a ‘derivative and formless farrago’); it is performed here with the viola part taken by the clarinet, an option sanctioned by the composer.
Neither of the clarinet pieces is likely to set the world alight, whereas the fluent and predominantly extrovert 17-minute Trio contains tantalising glimpses of greater achievements to come. Enthusiasts can rest assured that these admirably agile and idiomatic performers give Bax’s youthful inspiration every chance to shine; indeed, it’s impossible to imagine a more convincing account of the Trio.