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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Blow out; you bugles H.132 (1918) [05:38] (1); Adoration H.57 (1905/1918) [02:58] (1); Where she lies asleep H.114 (1914) [03:03] (1); Love went a-riding H.115 (1914) [01:41]; Thy hand in mine H.124 (1917/1923) [02:12] (1); Berceuse H.9 (1901) [05:09] (2); Mantle of Blue H.131 (1918/1934) [02:49] (2); Day after day H.164(i) (1922) [04:55]; (2); Speak to me; my love! H.164(ii) (1924) [06:00] (2); Berceuse H.8 (1901/1902/1928) [03:26]; Chant d’espérance H.18(ii) (1902) [03:45]; Serenade H.23 (1903) [02:53]; The Pageant of London; Suite for Wind Orchestra H.98 (1911) [15:11]; A Royal Night of Variety H.184 (1934) [01:27]
Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano) (2), Philip Langridge (tenor) (1)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
Recorded 23rd and 24th October 2004, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales
CHANDOS CHAN 10310 [61:13]

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How stirring Bridge can be at his best. Although Paul Hindmarsh rightly observes that the sentiments of Rupert Brooke’s "Blow out, you bugles" are hardly in line with Bridge’s passionately held pacifist beliefs, he opens with a burst of Elgarian panoply guaranteed to set the heart leaping, and much expressive writing follows, with striking quotations from the traditional "Last Post" motif. All the songs here, in fact, contain innumerable illuminating touches in their orchestrations and a generally grateful if not always especially memorable vocal line.

At the time of recording Philip Langridge was only a couple of months short of his 65th birthday. I suppose a slight waveriness under pressure might betray the passing years, but by and large the voice retains its rich quality – certainly I detected no threadbare or dried out tone, while his maturity as an interpreter is of great benefit to the matter in hand.

Of Sarah Connolly’s group I particularly appreciated "Mantle of Blue". I’m afraid I will be considered an unredeemable case by all true Bridge lovers in the sense that, while I love his finest works up to the middle period ("The Sea", "Summer", "Dance Poem", the Cello Sonata and many smaller pieces), I can’t always engage with his later period, where his innate lyrical gifts seem to be compromised by gratuitous grittiness, however sincerely meant. The two Tagore settings, "Day after day" and "Speak to me, my love", are a borderline case; beautiful orchestral textures go to support some lovely phrases which alternate with what seems, however reverently sung, a negation of melody. I’m sorry, but at certain points I just don’t see why the line should go up rather than down, and vice versa, particularly in the second song.

The three brief orchestral pieces that follow show that Bridge was from his early days able to turn a deft hand to light music, and to do it as well as specialists in the genre such as Fletcher or Ewing. Agreeable potboilers, I daresay, but what a nice tune the "Berceuse" has. "The Pageant of London" maybe needs the full original orchestration including 18 clarinets, 6 cornets, 6 horns and so on to be heard in all its splendour, but all the same the new edition for more practical forces on which the present recording is based should be taken up gratefully by wind bands: two swinging marches frame three very charming inner movements, one based on a theme later made famous in Warlock’s "Capriol Suite". "A Royal Night of Variety" is a very brief "fanfare in reverse", as Hindmarsh puts it, yet Bridge succeeds in stamping his personality on it.

This is, I presume, the last in Chandos and Hickox’s Bridge series; a reference to Hindmarsh’s thematic catalogue of the composer shows that only a very few scraps would remain; one of the Coronation Marches (1901 and 1911) seems to have been omitted, as has "An Irish Melody" (the orchestration of which simply constituted adding a double bass part to a work for string quartet), while the "Chant d’espérance" included here is one of three "Morceaux d’orchestre", of which we are told it is "by far the most successful". Still, there would have been room here for the other two. Also, one or two more songs seem to have orchestral accompaniments and a really complete edition should maybe have picked all this up along the way. But never mind, to all intents and purposes Bridge’s orchestral output is now completely available in thoroughly professional performances and recordings. This last disc may look like barrel scraping – all the previous five have at least one major work on them – but I hope it will not be turned aside by those who have collected the series thus far, for the songs in particular have much to offer, or for that matter by those who didn’t collect the earlier issues, having most of the music on earlier Lyrita and EMI discs, since everything here except the Tagore songs and two of the short orchestral pieces is a première recording. Those new to Bridge are advised to start with the EMI collection under Sir Charles Groves (in preference to a similar programme on Naxos under James Judd).

Christopher Howell


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