Norman Del Mar/Philharmonia: Bax Symphony No. 6 (rec. 1966) - Lyrita SRCS. 35
Jacket NM / LP NM
This handsome LP from Lyrita (SRCS 35, UK pressing, blue/silver label, stereo) features conductor Norman Del Mar and the New Philharmonia Orchestra’s powerful account of Arnold Bax’s Symphony No. 6, sumptuously recorded in demonstration quality sound in the fabled acoustics of Kingsway Hall, London, during July 1966 – in many ways, a performance still unsurpassed on record.
Of Lyrita's CD re-issue of this performance, the wonderful writer and critic John Quinn wrote for MusicWeb-International:
“It was through this recording and Lyrita’s other Bax symphony LPs that I first came to know Bax’s rich music. As this recording enters the CD lists, there are no fewer than three complete cycles available, a state of affairs that could scarcely have been dreamt of when Lyrita did their pioneering work. However, it seems to me that, notwithstanding the comparative plethora of other choices, this Del Mar recording of the mighty Sixth can more than hold its head up high.
“I was interested to look at the timings of this and the other available versions. Del Mar takes 39:32 and the Bryden Thomson Chandos recording runs for 39:37. However, the two more recent versions take appreciably less time. David Lloyd-Jones (Naxos) clocks in at 35:47 while the performance in Vernon Handley’s acclaimed Chandos cycle takes 35:33. Is this coincidence or does it indicate that the conductors of more recent recordings, that are now part of a performance tradition rather than pioneering issues, feel emboldened to be less expansive?
“The first thing to say about this Del Mar account is that the sound is quite marvellous. The recording wears its years extremely lightly. Perhaps the orchestra could have been placed at a slightly greater distance from the microphones but that’s a minor matter. The recording is wonderfully detailed and both the quiet passages and the huge Baxian climaxes are thrillingly reported. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two earliest recordings here were made by noted Decca engineers of the day. The symphony was engineered by Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson was responsible for the Irish Landscape recording. Just as an aside it was these two gentlemen who engineered for Decca the 1955 Keilberth/Testament ‘Ring’ cycle with such impressive results.
“Del Mar has the full measure of the symphony – what a fine conductor he was! In the booklet that accompanies his Chandos cycle Vernon Handley quotes, Peter Pirie, Lyrita’s annotator for the symphony, saying of this work that “It tears up the earth by its roots.” That’s a superb phrase that adroitly conveys the often brazen energy of the piece. Del Mar’s right on top of that aspect, whether he’s imparting menace to the opening bass ostinato or fire to the allegro con fuoco that follows. Even when Bax relaxes a little for the second subject of the first movement the music is still restless. Throughout this movement Del Mar invests the music with power and dramatic bite.
“The second movement brings us Bax, the Celtic dreamer. However, as Peter Pirie says in his note, it’s a “troubled dream”. Del Mar obtains some very sensitive, atmospheric playing. The atmosphere is carried over into the start of the third movement, which is almost as long as its two predecessors combined. This finale is ushered in by a long, unaccompanied clarinet solo, masterfully played, which is highly suggestive of the Sibelius First. In Del Mar’s hands this whole introduction is pregnant with atmosphere and tension. The scherzo, into which Bax moves seamlessly, is all dash and energy though the central trio is mainly delicate and ruminative. Eventually Bax builds to a massive climax before a long-drawn, evocative epilogue, which shows us the composer at his most haunting.
“Several commentators have suggested that the Sixth was the work in which Bax exorcised his symphonic demons, paving the way for the happier Seventh. Certainly Norman Del Mar proves to be a most effective exorcist for his account of the whole work is gripping and convincing. Not the least of his triumphs is to obtain from the New Philharmonia playing of such bite, assurance and conviction. In 1966 this must have been very unfamiliar fare to the players. Del Mar encourages them to deliver it almost as if it were a repertoire piece."
The reverse side of the jacket carries informative liner notes by Peter J. Pirie, printed in English only. The striking cover design was executed by Keith Hensby.