> Frank Bridge [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Enter Spring (1924) [18.11]
Summer (1912) [9.37]
Christmas Dance - Sir Roger de Coverley (1918) [4.17]
Cello Sonata (1940) [23.13]
Go Not Happy Day [1.37]
DECCA The British Music Collection 470 189-2 [57.11]


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Frank Bridge could so easily (and unfairly) be seen as the follower of various camps. His early British pastoral impressionist manner hardened in the furnace of the Great War into something far closer to the Second Viennese School: more Berg than Webern. On one side of the divide stand works such as the carefree Summer and romantic-impressionist suite The Sea. On the other side stand works of uncompromising spareness. The later works include Phantasm (piano and orchestra), Oration (cello and orchestra) and the String Quartets 3 and 4.

Enter Spring rather confounds the simplistic idea of a divide. It is a crucible in which the carefree lush pastoralism of Summer meets impressionism and the Schoenberg of Pelleas and Melisande. It is a work that sometimes is evocative of the dewy forests of Bax's Spring-Fire and at others takes on a unique quality all Bridge's own. The first stirring of the march of Spring emerges in birdsong and hesitancy but with growing swinging confidence (9.30). The tolling swaying march bursts with all the confidence and newness of Nielsen’s life-force. At 11.06 the sub-motif calls out 'blessed art thou' then the great swinging bell-figure rolls forward with blessed remorselessness at 11.55. There are even echoes of La Valse at 13.00. The jagged energising hammer-swung power of this music is staggering. The force which Bridge taps into or expresses is the same force that blasts forward Nielsen's Fourth, John Foulds' April-England and even the latter part of Finzi's Hardy song Regret Not Me. This is the same 'apple-tree shaker' that promises violent rebirth. At one level the work matches another much later piece - also march-driven - William Alwyn's Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia though the force of the Alwyn has more to do with tragic mortality than with rebirth.

Marriner makes a very good job of Enter Spring; better than his Bax November Woods originally issued on the same CD with Foulds' April-England. Groves in his classic 1974 EMI recording is even better at imparting symphonic weightiness. I always 'feel' Enter Spring as a compact symphony rather like the Alwyn 5, Rubbra 11, Lambert's Music for Orchestra and, further afield, like Sibelius 7, Pohjola's Daughter and Harris 7.

Summer is done in lush manner. The work is a gem of almost tactile scene painting. Gentle zephyrs play rather than rough winds shaking ‘the darling buds of May’. The ASMIF are augmented to large symphony orchestra proportions and it shows. Marriner gives Summer its most expansive and confident outing. The work has links with Butterworth's Shropshire Lad and Two Idylls. Those summers were soon to be trodden down by muddy boots, field grey, khaki and tank tracks.

The clever and far from long-winded Roger de Coverley was also recorded by Bridge pupil, Benjamin Britten. This is played with elan and explosive pizzicati as well as with a Scottish snap joyously capped by Auld Lang Syne (a tune on which Joseph Holbrooke in 1917 wrote a set of symphonic variations) kept as a surprise at the end.

Classic Bridge interpretation for the Bridge Cello Sonata. What more could you ask? Britten and Rostropovich dig deep into the continental passion of this compact Sonata. This is the revolutionary antithesis of the British stiff upper lip caricature. Rostropovich excavates fathoms of tone and sustains that tone without tremor - rock solid. This work is from 1917 and if at times it plays as if a Canute-like spell against the times it is certainly a touching and passionate piece. In the second movement the confidence has been corroded and the harmony has soured.

Kathleen Ferrier is as steady of tone as Rostropovich in Go Not Happy Day though the recording shows its ago in this fresh company. She does this little song to perfection. I was especially impressed by her careful attention to dynamics. The song satisfyingly rounds out this excellent if comparatively short-playing collection.

The brief notes are adequate. No texts for the song, I am afraid.

Rob Barnett

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