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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Cello Symphony op. 68 (1963) [37:37]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Oration – Concerto Elegiaco for cello and orchestra (1930) [30:41]
Steven Isserlis (cello)
City London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 12, 14 March 1987. DDD

There are plenty of links between Britten and Bridge. Britten was one of Bridge’s pupils. They both held pacifist sympathies. Britten was ‘blown away’ by Bridge’s suite The Sea and by the towering masterpiece that is Enter Spring – both heard by the young composer at the Norwich Festivals of the 1920s. The influence of Bridge and especially of The Sea can be heard in Britten’s Peter Grimes. Britten wrote his Frank Bridge Variations. Britten was instrumental in the Bridge revival of the 1960s into the 1970s when Bridge’s music had sunk past the plunge of plummet. Aldeburgh was the scene of some fine Bridge revivals conducted by Britten – The Sea and Enter Spring. Britten’s circle including Steuart Bedford carried the Bridge baton forward into a world more accommodating of Bridge’s styles and idioms. That their two works for cello and orchestra are coupled on one CD now enjoying its third issue is fitting although to date this is the first and only such coupling. These recordings were first issued by EMI Classics as CDC 7 49716 2 in the late 1980s. They were then reissued as CDM7639092 in 1992 (also in the British Composers series) and they now reappear again.
The Cello Symphony was written for Rostropovich who made the iconic Decca recording of it with the composer and the ECO in the 1960s. It came two years after the War Requiem and Cello Sonata and one year before the Cello Suite No. 1. All these works were bound up with Rostropovich in one way or another. Isserlis and Hickox in their emotive performance are treated to a wide spread and warmly embracing recording. There are many highlights including the desolating serenade at end of first track; not to mention the Coplandesque stride of the trumpet entwining the cello in tr. 5. From time to time one also hears music harking back to Grimes and to the Purcell Variations. As for the Bridge, which I must say puts the Britten in the shade in terms of sheer humane fibre and memorable quality, it is given a performance of powerful conviction if lacking the sheer concentration of the Lloyd Webber on Lyrita.
Previously these two major pieces have been grouped with other things - either shorter pieces by Bridge or similar concerto-scale pieces by other composers including Walton. Wallfisch's Bridge is on a fine Nimbus CD is with Holst’s Invocation and with the Elgar concerto - a good juxtaposition since both are suffused with the impact of the Great War. The unjustly forgotten but superb Pearl recording by Alexander Baillie and the Cologne radio orchestra conducted by John Carewe had Enter Spring as an apt companion. It has been deleted - more’s the pity. The Chandos Bridge series’ Oration is played by Alban Gerhardt and is coupled with other Bridge. Then again there’s the perfectly balanced, and I think, definitive reading by Julian Lloyd Webber recently reissued on Lyrita. The Lyrita is adroitly matched with Peter Wallfisch’s Phantasm which stylistically speaking is in very much the same territory as Oration.
Two masterly British cello scores, well recorded and in fine performances.
Rob Barnett


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