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Simon BAINBRIDGE (b.1952)
Fantasia for Double Orchestra (1983-4) [18:19]
Viola Concerto (1976) [27:32]
Concertante in Moto Perpetuo (1979) [7:56]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Simon Bainbridge (Fantasia); Walter Trampler (viola), London Sinfonietta/Michael Tilson Thomas (Concerto); Composers Ensemble/Bainbridge (Concertante)
rec. Barking Town Hall, 7 Dec.1989 (Fantasia); Watford Town Hall, 11-12 May 1982 (Concerto); Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead 16 March 1990 (Concertante)
NMC ANCORA D126 [53.47]
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This excellent Ancora disc originally appeared on the Continuum label in 1990. It was certainly a major step forward in establishing Bainbridge as an important composer and its reappearance is to be welcomed.
The most substantial work on the disc is the 27-minute Viola Concerto, composed between April and August 1976 to a commission by Walter Trampler, to whom the work is dedicated ‘in admiration’. It was he who gave the premiere at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1978 with Tilson Thomas and the London Sinfonietta, and their playing on this disc is of exceptional quality. One can hear why Bainbridge was taken with Trampler’s playing. From the outset his tone and technical assurance is phenomenal, even in the face of the many hurdles Bainbridge throws at the soloist. The plangent minor seconds that permeate the first movement shift almost imperceptibly as soloist and chamber orchestra elaborate their material, sometimes overlapping, sometimes fully independent but always moving forward in a continuous line of development. The central climactic chords shudder on harp, strings and pitched percussion while the viola sings its mournful song, a memorable moment. The second movement is more reflective, suiting the soloist’s timbre perfectly. I particularly like Bainbridge’s introduction of two off-stage violas who play little melodic and harmonic games with the soloist and members of the orchestra. It is a brooding, intense and powerful work.
The Fantasia for Double Orchestra strikes me as fully in line with other great English works that exploit the varying spatial effects that a split ensemble can bring, especially in skilful hands. It is divided into three movements that play without a break. The first movement exploits the harmonic relationships between E flat at the start and the B flat climax later on. The power and momentum is generated by intense rhythmic undercurrents that bring to mind the American minimalists, something the composer is happy to acknowledge. The work has sharp edges, colourful sonorities and is an altogether more outgoing piece than the Concerto, especially in this exuberant performance under the composer’s direction.
The shortest work, Concertante in Moto Perpetuo, betrays even more overtly the influence of minimalism and in particular Steve Reich, whose Six Pianos and Desert Music hover over the piece. Originally begun as a work for oboe and piano, Bainbridge extended the structure and enlarged the forces, transforming the whole into something bigger and more elaborate. It is effectively a pulsating 8-minute toccata for oboe, flute, clarinet, horn, piano and string quartet, said by the composer to be a character study of his energetic two-year-old daughter Rebecca. Gareth Hulse was the original inspiration but here the formidable oboe duties fall to the virtuosic Nicholas Daniel, supported with zest and enthusiasm by the Composers Ensemble.
The whole is beautifully and atmospherically recorded, and with notes by the composer and his long time friend and mentor Oliver Knussen, the authority of the disc is beyond question. Lovers of the contemporary English music scene cannot afford to ignore it, and those who are curious or adventurous will not be disappointed.
Tony Haywood


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