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


These two works, Bridge’s most substantial orchestral pieces, are, to all intents and purposes, concertos.

Oration’s original title was Concerto Elegaico which gives a clue to its character. Premiered in a BBC radio broadcast in early 1937, with the young Florence Hooton as soloist, it drew a favourable notice from Ernest Newman who was not exactly known to be an admirer of Bridge’s music. Bridge was a pacifist and Oration was an anguished outcry against the pain and futility of war. Personal loss, too, must have informed its pages. The work is cast in one single movement using the ‘phantasy’ form that had served the composer so well, earlier, when he had applied it to his chamber works. The music moves through episodes of bleak horror – especially in its use of a grotesque parody of a funeral march - to expressions of blazing anger and haunted grief; the lyrical episodes have a deeply-felt poignancy. This is extraordinarily expressive music, raw in its emotion. The section marked Ben Moderato mesto e tranquillo seems to suggest spectral birdsong in a desolated, torn landscape as the cello treads a path of despair. The Epilogue, added later, presumably to alleviate the work’s dark hues, with its simple chiming ostinato, suggesting a healing passage of time and perhaps conveying a message of hope is, for me, one of the loveliest passages Bridge created. Julian Lloyd Webber and Nicholas Braithwaite, wonderfully attuned to the bleak beauty of this work’s noble suffering, ensure that only the most stone-hearted could fail to be touched by its power.

Phantasm, premiered in 1934, was coolly received by the critics in spite of a performance, distinguished by soloist Kathleen Long, that drew praise from Frank Bridge. Paul Hindmarsh, in his erudite, quite technical, yet accessible notes, suggests that "it inhabits the world of dreams and ghostly apparitions". Once again, the work is cast in one continuous movement. It opens with extended piano musings only briefly interrupted by a protesting orchestral outburst before violins, later joined by woodwinds, express meekness and yearning that is brushed aside by descending piano scales. The music develops very much in the way of Late Romantic concertos and in some respects the music of Hollywood romances is not too distant. The tempo quickens in the second Allegro moderato section, dreams turning to nightmares as grotesqueries, waltzes first distorted, then softened, and martial figures stalk. As in the opening movement, the piano first meanders through the Andante molto moderato that follows, seemingly to no purpose. Reflecting, autumnal strings enter to point the piano towards nostalgic regret and a ghostly solo violin summons wraithlike apparitions before more Hollywood perorations. The final Allegro moderato section with its relentless brutal tread seems to point in the same anti-war direction as the grotesqueries of Oration.

Lloyd Webber and Braithwaite powerfully express Oration’s anti-war sentiments and the haunted pages of Phantasm. Rewarding stuff for the more adventurous music-lover.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett (av August Recording of the Month)

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