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Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)
Rondo Scherzoso (1948) [13:25]
Symphony No. 1 Op. 9 (1948-1949) [34:51]
Symphony No. 2 Op. 14 (1950-1951) [29:35]
Comedy Overture Op. 32 (1958) [5:02]
Symphony No. 3 Op. 36 (1960) [30:39]
Symphony No. 4 Op. 43 (1966 rev. 1978-1979) [37:53]
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson (1, Rondo), Albert Rosen (2, Overture), Sir Edward Downes (3); Maurice Handford (4)
Originally broadcast by the BBC in September and October 1980.
Stereo ADD
LYRITA REAM.2136 [77:51 + 73:34]

"London-born Peter Racine Fricker, (his middle name originated from his great-grandmother who was a descendant of the French dramatist), enrolled at the RCM in 1937 and studied composition with R.O. Morris, organ with Ernest Bullock and piano with Henry Wilson. Supplementary tuition came courtesy of Morley College. War halted proceedings with Fricker assuming the role of a radio operator in the Royal Air Force. Mátyás Seiber became a friend and mentor after the war, and in 1952 Fricker returned to Morley as musical director, succeeding Michael Tippett, a role he held for twelve years, with a professorship at the RCM running in tandem. In 1965 he moved to California, taking up a post at the University. He remained in the States until his death in 1990 of throat cancer.

Fricker was influenced by the music of Bartók, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but he wasn't slow to find his own voice. He amassed an impressive oeuvre, composing in all the main genres, with the exception of staged opera. He composed five symphonies in all, the first four are included here. No. 5 is a single-movement work for organ and orchestra, which has been issued by Lyrita (REAM.1124 - review), coupled with The Vision of Judgement, Op.29. His reputation as a composer was forged after World War 11, as was Humphrey Searle's and Iain Hamilton's. After his death it suffered decline, partly due to his preference for more established genres e.g. symphonies, concertos and string quartets, which some considered flew in the face of progressive trends, and his relocation to California which hampered his British exposure.

The First Symphony was afforded the accolade of a Koussevitsky Prize in 1949. A year later it was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival by the Hallé Orchestra and Sir John Barbirolli. It enjoyed some initial success, no doubt due to its adept contrapuntal writing, imaginative scoring and rhythmic intensity. After a potently virile opening movement, there's an eloquently contoured Adagio, sombre and reflective. A brief third movement marked 'Tableau and Dance' breaks the spell with its animated vivacity. The finale, for the most part, is laced with verve and vigour. The BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Bryden Thomson’s bring infectious enthusiasm to this potent work.

Ten years elapsed before the composer embarked on his Second Symphony. This one is cast in three movements. The work is Fricker's response to a commission from the City of Liverpool for the Festival of Britain, and the city hosted the premiere, with its Philharmonic Orchestra under Hugo Rignold in July 1951. Although large orchestral forces are harnessed, the texture, surprisingly, is far from dense, especially in the first two movements. Four trumpets are scored in, with the brass having a dominant role in the finale. Rondo form, highly favoured by Fricker, informs all three movements. The first is rhythmically driven. The elegiac Adagio has Bartók lurking in the wings. Energy returns in the impressive finale, harshly dissonant and angular.

The Third Symphony is dedicated to the London Philharmonic Orchestra who premiered it in November 1960 under John Prichard. It adopts a conventional four-movement pattern, and is powerfully dramatic. Fricker here flirts with serial methods and the music approaches the fringes of atonality. The first movement's energy is invigorating. This is followed by a Lento, ushered in on a solo oboe, and the mood instils serenity and calm. There's a sense of loneliness, isolation and angst pervading the music. Light, airy and mercurial, the Scherzo offers an element of light relief, before a broad maestoso finale.

The one-movement Fourth Symphony was premiered at the Cheltenham Town Hall in February 1967 by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Hugo Rignold. It bears a dedication to Mátyás Seiber, his teacher and friend, who had been killed in a car accident in South Africa in 1960. It was revised by the composer prior to this performance. As a tribute, near the end Fricker quotes from Seiber's Third String Quartet. The work consists of ten continuous sections. Centre stage is a heartfelt Adagio elegiaco, a touching lament of profound beauty. Maurice Handford has full measure of the ebb and flow of this compelling score, steering the orchestra with sensitivity and skill.

The two fillers consist of the 1948 Rondo Scherzosa, a form the composer enthused over, as I mentioned earlier. It can be seen as a sort of trial run for the First Symphony. The Comedy Overture of ten years later was a commission by the Friends of Morley College. It constitutes a light-hearted curtain-raiser.

In 1980, the BBC broadcast seven programmes to celebrate the composer's 60th birthday. The recordings here, all in stereo, derive from that series. Notwithstanding some minor blemishes, including some tape damage during the final bars of the second movement of the First Symphony, I have to say, they've scrubbed up well. They originate from the Richard Itter Archive, and form part of Lyrita's Recorded Edition Trust’s transfer programme, begun in 2014. Paul Conway’s erudite liner is, as always, detailed and informative.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Nick Barnard




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