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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Orchestral Works, Volume 4

Rebus - Overture for Orchestra (1940) [10:44] (premiere recording on CD)
Oration (Concerto elegiaco) for solo cello and orchestra (1930)* [29:16]
Allegro moderato - Fragment of a symphony for string orchestra (1940-41) [13:24] (edited by Anthony Pople)
Lament for string orchestra (Catherine, aged 9, 'Lusitania' 1915) (1915) [5:21]
A Prayer for chorus and orchestra (1916-18)† [17:55]
Alban Gerhardt (cello)*
BBC National Chorus of Wales †
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
Rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 13-14 May 2003
CHANDOS CHAN 10188 [77:00]
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This series treats Bridge with the authoritative style and sensitive musicianship Chandos have also extended to Schmidt, Glazunov, Bax and Harty. Bridge’s music is getting to the stage where it will no longer need special pleading.
It has undergone a rocky and sometimes desultory renaissance. In the 1950s and 1960s there was precious little available unless you were prepared to track down rare 78s or trade home-spun tape recordings of BBC broadcasts. In the 1970s things began to change. EMI Classics recorded an LP’s worth of orchestral music including Enter Spring and The Sea with Groves and the RLPO. Groves had already conducted a dazzling performance of Enter Spring at the 1978 Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra - now that would be well worth issuing if someone had a presentable tape. As we know from a BBC Legends CD, Britten had paid practical tribute to Bridge mounting performances of both works at the Maltings Snape during the 1960s. Decca issued the Allegri recordings of the grittiest of his string quartets: numbers 3 and 4, as well as the spare and dissonant Piano Trio No. 2 (on Argo). Pearl had a double LP of his piano music and songs in 1971 including the grim Piano Sonata. Lyrita issued most of the orchestral music between 1978 and 1982 but these valued and often inspirational recordings by Boult (SRCS 73) and Braithwaite (SRCS 91, 104, 114) slipped into an oblivion from which they have still not emerged when the LP was felled by the CD in 1983. At least EMI Classics kept their Bridge/Groves miscellany in the catalogue. Pearl produced the opera The Christmas Rose and a far from modest crop of LPs and CDs of the chamber music, piano solos, songs (Tagore), choral works (A Prayer) as well as diminutive (Norse Legend) and not so diminutive (Isabella) orchestral pieces. They also had a quite extraordinary CD (SHECD9601) of Enter Spring and Oration. This featured performances by John Carewe conducting the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra with Alexander Baillie (cello) in Oration. If ever Pearl felt moved to issue their recorded Bridge legacy (analogue and digital, please) in a single boxed set it would be likely to be greeted very warmly - if only they would! Continuum had all the piano music on four CDs and all four quartets on two CDs. Meridian have done well by Bridge (e.g. the four string quartets) as also have Hyperion with the latter producing a complete edition of the songs as well as a smattering of the chamber music.

The present Chandos selection gives us three works of his uncompromising older age from 1930 to 1941 as well as two more lyrically accessible works from the teens of the century both written during the axle-turn of his life: The Great War. That very war swept away the softer innocence and pastoral delight and opened the eyes and mind to brisk and bracing currents from the Continent. Bridge began to find a new voice but few critics of the time reacted well to it. His Summer and The Sea delighted the Edwardians and later romantics but what were this generation to make of the nightmares of the Piano Sonata, the last two quartets and the Piano Trio No. 2; never mind the enigmatic Oration and Phantasm. Even when he returned to the countryside in Enter Spring and the Two Jefferies Poems the language, while even more intoxicating, had an unnerving allure that was strange to those brought up on his Tchaikovskian tendencies.

Oration: According to the work's first soloist, the cellist Florence Hooton, Bridge gave the concerto the principal title Oration because he wanted it to be not only a passive elegy (its subtitle is Concert Elegiaco) but also a protest against war. He had been gripped by that theme in the Piano Sonata of 1924 dedicated to his young pupil Ernest Bristow Farrar, killed in the trenches. Oration was completed in 1929-30 and was rejected by three other cellists before finding Hooton. Felix Salmond was to have premiered it in Chicago but didn't, Guilhermina Suggia turned down a BBC broadcast as did Lauri Kennedy. It was broadcast finally on 17 January 1936 after three grand rehearsals and was warmly greeted by Ernest Newman, not a great admirer of Bridge's later style. A set of discs were made of the premiere and these are still held by the Frank Bridge Trust (a chance here for Symposium surely even if the original engineer did omit a couple of bars). There was one other broadcast, 6 December 1936, and the piece then sank without trace until revived in the 1970s by the young cellist Thomas Igloi with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Frederick Prausnitz in 1975.

Julian Lloyd Webber made the first commercial recording of Oration. His is an unsentimental approach in which steadiness of tone production and a refined natural sound quality go to produce a very fine result in the best analogue traditions of Lyrita. Braithwaite lets the hysteria build organically to an angry peak (15:23). The luminous recording quality can be heard at 12:31 in the quiet skein of sound through which the harp momentarily peeps out. Lloyd Webber takes 27:30 as against the 31:20 taken by Alexander Baillie on the rare and sadly deleted Pearl CD SHE CD 9601 from 1987. The Baillie version works well although his tone is not quite as cleanly produced as Lloyd Webber's and the soloist's final note does not float free with quite the pristine soprano purity you get on the Lyrita LP. Steven Isserlis on EMI Classics CDC 7 49716 2 (much reissued) in 1988 takes 30:24. He is with the City of London Sinfonia conducted by the very same Hickox who now conducts the BBC Welsh with Alban Gebhardt.

Gebhardt is an intriguing choice and not one I had predicted. After all, during the year 2000 Hickox conducted Oration with the BBC Welsh and Chandos regular Raphael Wallfisch, for BBC Radio 3. The engineering quality on the Chandos is very clean, achieving good transparency if without the silk and canvas strength of the fabulous Lyrita. By comparison the no-nonsense radio studio balance for the Pearl, done by German Radio WDR, Otto Nielsen and Klaus-Dieter Harbusch, is meaty and not at all sketchy. On the other hand the playing of the orchestra especially in the epilogue is outstanding and Isserlis almost matches the enigmatic singing quality luminously achieved by Lloyd Webber.
Of course the Lyrita was only ever issued on LP. It has never been reissued on CD.

The Chandos recording perspective is spectacular, probably the best it has ever had, and very much in the most exalted Decca manner though not at all what you would hear in the concert hall. The cellist is given a microphone eminence which is extremely commanding, exciting, flamboyant and gratingly moving. That epilogue is deeply affecting, tender through the soloist's voice yet bleakly haunted like the second movement of Havergal Brian's Gothic and related also to the extended finale to RVW's Sixth Symphony.

Rebus has been recorded before but never on CD. It first emerged in a BBC broadcast by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Frederick Prausnitz in 1975. Then in the late 1970s the LPO and Nicholas Braithwaite (used extensively by Lyrita in those days) recorded it on Lyrita SRCS 114.

The 1940-41 Allegro moderato for string orchestra is all that remains of a projected symphony for strings. In fact the last few bars were left unfinished on Bridge's death and were ‘completed’ by Anthony Pople. This too was issued on LP by Lyrita on SRCS 104 and of course was never reissued on CD. This is a classically clean work and very romantic for that time when you compare it with the bustle and elfin dissonance of Rebus.

The 1915 Lament has been recorded several times before. Strange how returning to it after a longish time I hear more predications of the sourer Bridge from There is a willow grows aslant a brook than I did previously. It is warm but there are harmonic eddies and depths that look forward a decade.

A Prayer to words by Thomas à Kempis takes us down a road Bridge did not go down again except, to some extent, in the opera A Christmas Rose (on Pearl). It is Bridge's only work for chorus and orchestra and is an invocation to peace. The orchestration was completed in October 1918 and it was premiered in the great spaces of the Royal Albert Hall in January 1919 and then again in 1935. Its style now sounds rather Finzian (5.04 onwards) and warmly cocooned. It receives here a very fine performance There is some lovely antiphonal work superbly captured by the Chandos team. That high exposed ppp singing recalls Holst's Ode to Death written for Cecil Cole another young composer victim of the Great War. It is not perhaps the equal of the Holst, which has a mystical spirituality not quite attained by Bridge, but it remains a work of candid sincerity.
Its two previous recordings are a moving but rather fleet-footed version (all over in 15:07) on a Pearl LP (Chelsea Opera Group/Howard Williams) and most recently a recording by Liverpool forces conducted by Douglas Bostock (Classico). Hickox's measured pace works very well and is extremely moving, reminding me also of parts of Hickox's Chandos set of Dyson's Quo Vadis at O whither shall my troubled muse incline where, at 3.48, we seem to hear the marching tread of starry soldiery.

Rebus was originally entitled A Rumour (like the Cowell piece once recorded by Neville Marriner). It was written in 1940 and would have been in that year’s Prom season had it not been cancelled due to the Blitz. In fact it had to wait until 23 February 1941, just a month after Bridge's death, before it gained a hearing. Apart from some threatening and inimical shadows and an occasionally ruthless tread this is a bustling determined and fairly romantic little concert overture with Elgarian and even Waltonian moments. The recording by Lyrita and Braithwaite has that additional smashing tension but there is not much in it. It's all a bit academic anyway; the Lyrita is of course only available on LP and then only of you can find someone who will sell you the now almost thirty year old LP or who might be tempted to make a stop-gap CDR until you can buy a Lyrita CD - if that day ever arrives!

This all adds up to a very fine addition to the Chandos series. It stands up extremely well in the Bridge discography generally being perceptive, varied, sensitive, excellently performed and recorded and generously assembled. Not a hint of series burnout here. It is superbly documented by Bridge expert Paul Hindmarsh. An instant and uncontroversial recommendation.
This is the fourth volume. I wonder if there will be more.

Rob Barnett


Volume 1 Reviews by Hubert Culot Terry Barfoot

Volume 2 Review by Rob Barnett

Volume 3 Reviews by Rob Barnett Tony Haywood Paul Shoemaker (SACD)

See MusicWeb's Frank Bridge pages written by Rob Barnett


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