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For some this outgoing score is serenade-like, yet it surely also reflects the third Symphony, and—particularly when heard in the analytical climate of the recording studio—the parallel between the sound world of the Nonet and the third Symphony, with which it is absolutely contemporary, is striking, albeit the Nonet has for the most part a more relaxed and sunnier character than that epic score. It was first conceived as a two-movement Violin Sonata, completed in September 1928 (it would have been his fourth), but it remained unperformed. When, in 1929, as one of the leading composers of the day, Bax was commissioned to produce a work for the 1930 Bradford Festival, he re­scored it for flute, oboe, clarinet, harp, string quartet and double bass, completing the score in January 1930. It was first heard at Bradford on 30 September. The second performance is also of interest for it was a private concert in memory of the pianist Harriet Cohen’s brother, Eric Verney-Cohen, to whom, when it was published, it was dedicated.

The first movement, in sonata form, starts with the viola playing a flowing ostinato—later on clarinet—over which the oboe is heard with what Bax referred to as ‘the main subject of the work’. Two more ideas are introduced and, in Bax’s words, they are ‘worked out with increasing passion’. Finally an emphatic allargando brings us to a violent re-assertion of the ostinato figure. The tempo becomes a real allegro for the first time and the main subject is ‘tossed about between the various instruments as if blown by a storm’. There remains a short coda derived from the ostinato and the third theme.

The second movement starts with the statement of two ideas, one on the clarinet in semiquavers, the other in chords. Later follow two others. A gradual climax leads to further development of the first theme after which the third predominates, as Bax said ‘in an ever darkening mood’. Bax referred to the lento expressivo coda as ‘an idyllic epilogue’ in which returns the first subject of the first movement now informed by elements of the fourth idea from the second movement.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 1995


Bax: Nonet & other chamber music
CDA66807Archive Service


Movement 1: Molto moderato – Lento
Track 1 on CDA66807 [9'58] Archive Service
Movement 2: Allegro – Lento espressivo
Track 2 on CDA66807 [8'12] Archive Service

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