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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Enter Spring (1927), Summer (1914), Two Poems (1915), The Sea (1911)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Recorded at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 11th-15th November 2002
NAXOS 8.557167 [62:17]


Back in 1975, when this sort of repertoire was still rarer on disc than gold dust, Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic set down for EMI a programme basically similar to this, with Bridge’s early, middle and late periods neatly represented by "The Sea", "Summer" and "Enter Spring" and placed in chronological order, the sort of weirdly logical thing people sometimes still did in those days, poor misguided souls (Naxos has them back to front). Whereas the Naxos disc adds the "Two Poems", Groves’s programme was completed by the charming "Cherry Ripe" and the poignantly moving "Lament". It was an ideal introduction to Bridge and remained one of Sir Charles’s best-loved discs; always a warm-hearted and vital conductor, he showed his empathy with this music in countless touches of phrasing and general pacing.

Judd and his engineers have given Bridge a smoother surface. The performances are certainly very well prepared and seemingly appreciative of the music and I hope it not just familiarity with the Groves performances which leads me to find inferior what I should be finding simply different. All the same, when the rising horn octave near the beginning of "The Sea" is present in Judd but not given that little emphasis which makes it stir your soul, when the rustlings at the opening of "Summer" are further forward with Judd but the gradual awakenings in the wind are further back and less characterful, I am bound to feel that Judd’s response to the music is less deeply-rooted than Groves’s. It is interesting that Groves is more passionately forward moving in "The Sea" and, though marginally, "Summer", while adopting a slightly more expansive gait in "Enter Spring" – and each time he seems to be right; though to be fair, the only occasion where I found Judd unsatisfactory (as opposed to less satisfactory) was in the first movement of "The Sea", which lasts 7:25 against Groves’s 6:21 and sounds static (is this why Naxos preferred not to place it at the beginning of the programme?).

All this is very unfortunate for Judd who has really done an extremely good job, but the Groves record is something of a classic. I fell in love with this music through it and, while I enjoyed the Judd, coming back to Groves after a longish period I found it rekindling my first sensations so if you don’t know Bridge this should be your starting point.

And if you really don’t know Bridge … here are timbres and melodies to haunt you, here is passion as well as poetry, strength as well as delicacy, fantasy but also formal balance. If you are not resistant to a post-romantic, post-impressionist style, do make sure you hear it.

Christopher Howell

see also reviews by John France and Rob Barnett

This disc was July Bargain of the Month

 



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