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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Oration - Concerto elegiaco for cello and orchestra H180 (1930) [31:07]
Phantasm for piano and orchestra H182  (1931) [27:19]
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello);  Peter Wallfisch (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Southwark, October 1976 (Oration) and Kingsway Hall, November 1975 (Phantasm)
LYRITA SRCD.244 [58:32]

To begin I can do no better than to quote what Rob Barnett said in his review of this recording: "This is a disc for Bridge connoisseurs".  Those who are collecting Richard Hickox's set of the complete Bridge orchestral music on Chandos may feel that they do not need a second recording of these two Bridge masterworks. Those who have been long-term admirers of the composer will probably already have these recordings in some form. I will try to provide a few reasons why this particular version is important.
Bridge's Phantasm has been ably recorded by Howard Shelley in the Chandos set, but it must be said that the performance by Peter Wallfisch on Lyrita is perhaps the most distinguished of his career. The work is based on two related ideas that are taken though four complex movements and is spectral throughout and frequently terrifying. This is where Wallfisch excels - he brings these aspects out in a mixture of increasing and decreasing intensities that ably serves Bridge. In this he is brilliantly assisted by Nicholas Braithwaite, creator of so many fine Lyrita recordings (see my review of his performance of the Rawsthorne Symphony No. 2).  The recording dates from 1977 and was an excellent one for the time, although it had a tendency to be a little murky. That problem has been cleared up in the digital re-mastering and the sound is now almost like new, except for certain woodwind passages in the third section.
Julian Lloyd Webber was at a different place in his career when he made this recording of Oration, but he provides the seriousness that this piece requires and occasionally his playing is extremely searching and incisive. Oration  comprises eight sections, mostly varying between moderato and allegro, leading to a searing lento, followed by a slightly hopeful andante. It is unique in its particular brand of sadness. We expect sadness from an anti-war work, but Bridge's sadness contains a weariness that make it stand out from a work such as Bliss's more heroic Morning Heroes, almost as if it's too much effort not to be sad. Lloyd Webber is best in the connected fourth and fifth sections - an ironic march leading to a progressively more enervated cadenza. Again Braithwaite and the LPO provide splendid support, although their contribution is not quite as crucial as in the Phantasm.
Overall, I prefer Lyrita's Phantasm to the Chandos version, in spite of the recording issues, while I think Raphael Wallfisch's Oration on Chandos and Lloyd Webber's are about equal in terms of depth. The recording of the latter by Alban Gerhardt I have not heard. Overall, the Wallfisch family does well, although only one Lloyd Webber was present. As said above, not a recording for everyone interested in these Bridge masterworks, but one many will want to have.
William Kreindler

see reviews by Rob Barnett (Recording of the Month) and Ian Lace


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