Thursday, April 6, 2017

Frank Bridge - Orchestral Works Vol. 4 (Richard Hickox)


Composer: Frank Bridge
  1. Rebus, overture
  2. Oration (Concerto elegiaco), for cello & orchestra
  3. Allegro moderato, fragment of a symphony for string orchestra
  4. Lament, for string orchestra
  5. A Prayer, for chorus & orchestra

Alban Gerhardt, cello (2)
BBC National Chorus of Wales (5)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox, conductor

Date: 2004
Label: Chandos



Over the last few years, Frank Bridge’s music has been enjoying a major resurgence. Even with his increased presence in the catalog, however, this disc (the fourth volume in Chandos’s continuing series devoted to his orchestral works) deserves special attention. The main offering, in both size and substance, is Oration (1930), a concerto for cello and orchestra in a single, freewheeling movement lasting around half an hour. If the title and the general description lead you to expect something in the nature of Bloch’s Schelomo, you won’t have trouble finding resemblances. But Bridge’s work covers a wider terrain, and its railing against the violence of war offers a far tougher and more disturbing emotional experience, as weighty proclamations and soaring climaxes give way to moments of dark brooding and to terrifying nightmare marches, both aggressive (similar in their cold insensitivity to the most brutal passages of the Ravel Left-Hand Concerto) and funereal. The work finally resolves into a peaceful epilogue, but it’s hardly an uplifting one, the repeated gestures in the background giving the music a desolate Holstian chill. It’s a deeply evocative piece, and it would make a good substitute for the overplayed Prokofiev and Shostakovich staples favored by so many cellists seeking virtuoso cello-and-orchestra fare from the mid-20th century.

The anguish of Oration is mirrored, at a lesser level of intensity, in the paradoxically lean and dissonant lyricism of the unfinished Allegro moderato (all that exists of a symphony for strings that Bridge was working on when he died) and in the grieving of the 1915 Lament (a poignant memorial to a nine-year-old girl who died on the Lusitania). On the surface, the disc’s opener, Rebus, is more upbeat—but even this vital concert overture is shot through with a darkness that keeps its fantasy from turning whimsical. Indeed, it’s only in the final work, A Prayer, that you find anything like unclouded affirmation. Composed in 1916–18, it’s Bridge’s only work for chorus and orchestra—and it’s marked by an uncharacteristically stalwart sturdiness. Not an especially ear-opening piece; but as a glimpse of a path not taken, it too is well worth knowing. Bridge’s admirers may have fond memories of excellent older performances of this music (Nicholas Braithwaite’s pungent Rebus and the Julian Lloyd Weber/Braithwaite Oration were among the gems of the old Lyrita catalog). But many of them are out of print; and except for the slightly stiff performance of the Allegro moderato (it sounds as if the orchestra needed more time to get comfortable with the austerity of the writing), Hickox more than holds his own. Chandos’s sound is as rich and full as expected. All in all, enthusiastically endorsed.

-- Peter J. Rabinowitz, FANFARE

More reviews:
Whole series:


Frank Bridge (26 February 1879 – 10 January 1941) was an English composer, violist and conductor. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London from 1899 to 1903 under Charles Villiers Stanford and others. As a teacher. Bridge is remembered for privately tutoring Benjamin Britten, who later championed his teacher's music. During the war and immediately afterwards Bridge wrote a number of pastoral and elegiac pieces, but after the war his language developed significantly, with more complex, larger works, and more advance harmonic elements and motivic working.


Richard Hickox (5 March 1948 – 23 November 2008) was an English conductor of choral, orchestral and operatic music. He served as Artistic Director of the Northern Sinfonia (1982-1990), Associate Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1985-2008) and Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (2000-2006). His recording repertoire concentrated on British music, in which he made a number of recording premieres for Chandos Records (he made over 280 recordings for this company) and won five Gramophone Awards.


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