This release, Volume 1 of a projected Bridge series,
usefully combines works spanning twenty years of Bridge’s composing
life and, as such, provides a most interesting and revealing survey
of his musical progress.
The earliest piece is the tone-poem Mid of the
Night completed as early as 1903 and first performed in 1904.
Then the piece lay forgotten for more than ninety years! As might be
easily guessed, this work is hardly characteristic of Bridge though
it already exhibits a quite remarkable orchestral mastery. The shadow
of, say, Tchaikovsky and Liszt looms large, but Bridge’s means were
obviously up to his ambitions for this is a quite substantial work and
a worthwhile addition to this composer’s discography. A most welcome
novelty indeed for now we clearly know from where Bridge started.
Isabella, written a few years later in
1906, shows a clear advance in terms of structure rather than of idiom.
It is another example of Bridge’s ability to write in long paragraphs
even if the work’s program still adheres fairly strictly to Keats’ poem.
Bridge’s achievement is the more remarkable for this reason. One of
its most endearing features is the warm lyricism it exudes. There are
some wonderful themes, such as the one started on oboe representing
Isabella, and some fine orchestral touches. Bridge’s mastery is again
evident throughout. This lushly and warmly scored piece was recorded
many years ago by PEARL (SHE 568, maybe available in CD format now).
The Two Poems of 1915 may be somewhat
better known for they were also recorded years ago (LYRITA SRCS 104
nla and unfortunately not re-issued in CD format at the time of writing).
These short pieces are based on texts by Jefferies and might still be
considered as tone-poems though they evoke more complex emotions that
are reflected in the idiom used by Bridge. In these pieces he may have
been quite near to the world of Delius and to that of French Impressionism
(actually they may be the sole piece by Bridge which might have brought
him towards larger audiences). The first piece is a lovely Pastorale
lightly and subtly scored whereas the second one is a lively colourful
Scherzo. As such the Two Poems may be viewed as
a transitional work in Bridge’s output for he did not actually continue
composing in this vein. Indeed, the aftermath of World War I was to
shatter Bridge’s newly acquired status. His style will soon change dramatically
and become more radical, and his first major piece after the War (the
powerful Piano Sonata) in which Bridge’s more radical
thinking is prominent, will estrange him to his later audiences for
too many long years.
Enter Spring of 1927 is one of Bridge’s
finest mature works. This richly and subtly scored rhapsody shines as
a pure jewel. It is a sunny, colourful, exuberant work in which Bridge’s
supreme orchestral and formal mastery is at its greatest. Bridge’s remarkable
scoring abounds with invention and imagination, especially in the central
pastoral section which is magical. The work exults in a brilliant peroration
evoking the arrival of Spring in a most lush and grand manner. Later,
Bridge’s maturity will yield some other wonderful masterpieces, such
as the last string quartets, the superb Second Piano Trio and – above
all – his unquestionable masterpiece Oration for cello
and orchestra. But Enter Spring is undoubtedly the first
of Bridge’s late masterpieces.
So, this Volume 1 augurs well for the rest of this
new series. Hickox conducts finely paced performances of all these pieces
and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales respond with wholehearted enthusiasm
and dedication. Warmly recommended.