If Strauss's tone poems revel in lush romantic themes, Bax's tone poems deal with expressionistic colors and moods. Curiously, they don't seem particularly "British," though they are most definitely modern. Bax's musical temperament has often been compared to that of Sibelius, who also was not afraid to explore dark landscapes, interior or exterior (his Fourth Symphony is an example). The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew (1931) is a good example of Bax mixing the exterior landscapes of southern England with the interior one of the modern composer. Top notch music, done exceptionally well. --Paul Cook
The disc reviewed here is from Bryden Thomson's excellent Arnold Bax series and the performances are very strong throughout. The program matches a late symphonic poem with three pieces taken from an early unfinished opera and reshaped into the Eire trilogy (1908-1910). The subjects reflect Bax's involvement in Celtic culture and Irish political issues. (This was an adopted cause, as Bax came from an upper middle class London family of Dutch origin.) The Eire trilogy is interesting and worthwhile, although not as developed as Bax's scores from a few years later.
The best known music on the disc is "What the Pine Trees Know," a 1931 tone poem which Arnold Bax named as one his 5 preferred pieces to a journalist later on in his life. While I think "What the Pine Trees Know" is a reasonably successful piece - it tails off in the second half after a more interesting opening based on an oscillating semitone motif - I wouldn't name it among Bax's best. I've attempted to follow Bax's 5-best list and either my lack of taste or Bax's own lack of self-perception (or maybe just diverging tastes) limits the overlap with what I'd cite as his best music, the exception being that very beautiful postimpressionist tone poem "The Garden of Fand."
This is a good disc, although it doesn't contain my favorite of Bax's music, but I recommend you seek out the Chandos re-issue, with additional material and exceptional remastering.