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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Coronation March (1911) [6.46]
Summer (1914) [10.42]
Phantasm (1931) [24.21]
There is a Willow Grows Aslant A Brook (1927) [11.18]
Vignettes de Danse (1938) [11.20]
Sir Roger de Coverley (A Christmas Dance) (1922) [4.41]
Howard Shelley (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea 27 Nov 2000 (Sir Roger); 28-29 Nov 2002. DDD
Orchestral works: volume 3
CHANDOS CHAN 10112 [69.55]


This Chandos series is taking its time to appear. Nothing wrong with that if the results are good and this shows that taking time can produce a better effect even if the loyal enthusiasts are chafing for the next release..

Bridge came of a generation riven by the Great War. The composers of that epoch were also stung, inspired or troubled by new musical currents from Vienna. Bridge may be seen as a follower of fashion as his music changed style over the period from 1911 to 1938. A Tchaikovskian romantic with an impressionistic palette (Dance Poem and Dance Rhapsody) evolved into a composer whose range of expression took in the harmonic adventures offered by Berg, Schrecker and Zemlinsky (Oration and Phantasm). If his music suffered a critical ice age his conducting remained in demand although not sufficiently to command major fees let alone extensive recordings.

This Chandos collection takes us from the snappy pomp and lyricism of the Coronation March via the Butterworth and Ravel of Summer to the first stirrings of Continental accents in There is a Willow to the masterly ambivalence and mildewed expressionist complexity of Phantasm.

The March repays several hearings as its lyrical facets register more strongly over the celebratory snap and clash. This is its world premiere recording and it is worth hearing though certainly written against his pacifist character and natural inclination. The competition for which he wrote the piece did not award any prizes that year. I wonder what else was entered.

In Hickox's Summer one can feel the slow warmth of the sun in the veins just as much as the shimmering vigour. Del Mar on a now elderly recording with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta (also Chandos) makes a more breezy magic but Hickox is excellent at the Delian languor and slow blooming woodland magic of the piece.

Phantasm is a major piece of the utmost seriousness of mood. While works such as Summer, The Sea, the Two Poems and the two early dance works expound on sky, scenery and open air Phantasm is a psychological rhapsody. It is work that has not been frequently recorded. Indeed there’s only one competitor on CD and that is not currently available (Conifer Stott/RPO/Handley with the Walton Sinfonia Concertante and the Ireland concerto). It is a work that inhabits a land of mildew and troubled reflection like parts of Bax's Winter Waters and Saga Fragment. There is some ruthless nightmare music as at 6.34 which rises to a sour heroic rhythmic military gesture for horns and piano. The soloistic writing is rather akin to Prokofiev’s Third Concerto with transient harkings back to the earlier idyllic style at 7.54. There is nothing of decoration in this piece; more a case of a finger trailing through stagnant waters. There is a ruthless threat about the emphatic writing for brass and piano. Indeed it reads like a prophet’s warning. The depressive mildewed poetry of There is a Willow continues the theme of darkness in music and hovers close to the instrumentals in Warlock's Curlew. I rather like Neville Dilkes' old version on EMI but this outstrips the audio quality of that analogue version. Hickox's lugubriously reflective way with the piece works extremely well.

The Vignettes de Danse were orchestrated in 1938 from a suite of Mediterranean sketches originally written in 1925. These ‘postcards’ are a set of subtle chiaroscuros - much more sophisticated and fragile than say Bax's Mediterranean or Holst's Beni Mora and more delicate that Ibert's Escales.

The disc ends with a brief dance which I have known previously only in its versions from string orchestra (Decca, Britten) and string quartet. This, most unusually, is for full orchestra and the treatment is fully coloured like an intensely imaginative dance fantasy with moonlight and stars adrift. The finale in which the tune ‘Roger de Coverley’ intertwines masterfully with ‘Auld Lang Syne’ still works its enchantment although without Britten and the ECO's carefully weighted judgement this version at this point suffers in comparison. This is the sort of piece that would pair well with Chabrier's España or Barber's Souvenirs. Beecham would have made much of this if only he had been tempted to take it up.

There is no directed competition for this disc. It is highly attractive as a collection. I would not want to be without Del Mar's Summer, Dilkes' There is a Willow or Stott's Phantasm which is leaner though not as threatening as Shelley's and Hickox's.

Next will come what I presume to be the final instalment including Oration for cello and orchestra, the late overture Rebus and the surviving movement from the incomplete Symphony for Strings.
This disc cuts a broad swathe through Bridge's stylistic journey providing a well balanced and attractive collection which I happily commend.

Rob Barnett


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