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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Enter Spring (Rhapsody) (1927) [19:20]
Summer (Tone Poem) (1914) [9:40]
Two Poems for orchestra (1915) [10:56]
The Sea - Suite (1911) [21:39]
New Zealand SO/James Judd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ, 11-15 Nov 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557167 [62:17]

This is not the first recording connection between the music of Frank Bridge with New Zealand. After an eminent orchestral series on Lyrita, the conductor Nicholas Braithwaite moved to New Zealand and continued to record there. Judd’s Naxos Elgar met some welcomes and some resistance. How will he fare with Bridge?

Judd's Summer taps into a quickened pulse - listen to the pacing of the Sibelian chatter at the start. However the slower music languishes narcissistically - exactly as it should. There are moments when Bridge is close to Delius but he has an intensity of action that Delius usually lacks except in a work like North Country Sketches with which Summer shares an innocent vigorous atmosphere and character.

The very next year (the second year of the Great War) drew a further countryside-based work. This is the diptych Two Poems inspired by the countryside writings of Richard Jefferies. The languid first poem speaks of the haze of distance and beauty, thoughts and feelings that remain undefined, unfocused. This matches well with Howells' chamber works of that time, Butterworth's contemporaneous orchestral pieces and the spirit of Arnold's ‘Scholar Gypsy’ and of the Gloucestershire wanderings of Ivor Gurney. The first poem relates to the Jefferies story The Open Air (1883). The second connects with The Story of My Heart (1885). The latter is a delightful scherzo catching the verdant brilliance, the rustle of leaves, the laughing breezes of Jefferies words 'the dance never still, the laugh ... like water which runs for ever.' The two poems are over in ten minutes. Kindred works include Foulds' April-England (on Lyrita), Hadley's The Trees So High and yes even Philippe Sarde’s score for Polanski's Tess.

Judd’s The Sea is very romantic and Sibelian - in the Lemminkainen manner. There are many affecting moments but one I must mention is the superbly sustained and poetic playing the NZSO flautist at 2.10 in Moonlight. If in Storm the horns lack the close-up 'bite' of Hickox's Chandos this is still outstandingly done and the final pages have a ‘bigness’ that I have not heard before.

The masterwork here is Enter Spring. It might as easily, but with less originality, have been called ‘The March of Spring’ for it is equally unstoppable and has an irrepressible energy. About two minutes shorter than Groves classic account on EMI it is more intrepidly stormy. Marriner on Decca is about one minute quicker. There is a certain iron in the sound of the NZSO strings which is absent from the RLPO and Marriner versions. This is compounded by the slightly reduced transparency of the recording.

This is a most attractive package made complete by Keith Anderson's helpful notes and the cover reproduction of a painting Squally weather, south coast by one Henry Moore (1831-1895).

This is a good inexpensive introduction to the music of Frank Bridge - a by no means parochial composer. The music is unsettling and startlingly original in the case of Enter Spring.

Rob Barnett
see also review by John France

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