This really is most welcome. With the exception of The White Peace (a favourite of the great John McCormack), Bax’s songs have been largely neglected – undeservedly so, on the evidence of this addition to Dutton’s Epoch series.
Half a dozen items here overlap with a 21-track Continuum anthology (5/93), but the artistic superiority of the present team is clear. Ian Partridge sings with his customary sensitivity and intelligence, responding with particular eloquence to the grateful melodic lines of To Eire (1910) and the yearningly ecstatic Parting. The latter appeared in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Easter Uprising and its haunting strains are heard again in the epilogue of the Symphonic Variations completed two years later. Likewise, the opening phrase of the 1914 Chaucer-setting Roundel (the earliest of Bax’s works to be inscribed to his mistress and muse, Harriet Cohen) will already be familiar for listeners to the contemporaneous tone-poem Nympholept.
Jean Rigby works wonders with the youthful Celtic Song Cycle (a setting from 1904 of five poems by Fiona Macleod, aka William Sharp) and imparts an almost operatic scope to the quietly intense ‘Song in the Twilight’. She’s impressive, too, in A Lullaby, a 1910 setting of one of Bax’s own poems, conceived in the middle of an unrequited love-affair with a Ukrainian girl, Natalia Skarginska.
Michael Dussek’s accompaniments are a model of scrupulous musicality, while the truthful sound and balance emanate from St George’s, Brandon Hill, in Bristol. Lewis Foreman pens the helpful booklet-note, though the absence of texts is an irritation. Still, this enterprising collection must receive the heartiest of welcomes.