Oration (Concerto elegiaco)
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded May 2003 in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10188 Duration: 77 minutes Reviewed: June 2004
Frank Bridge 4
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Chandoss estimable Frank Bridge series reaches Volume 4.
Rebus, Bridges last completed work, unheard by its composer, is a brilliant overture, one witty, deft and burgeoning, scored with variety and clarity. Maybe wartime rumouring does run beneath its sometimes-ambiguous surface (Rebus was composed in 1940), yet its open-air, occasionally doubtful, sometimes extravagant mix of ideas makes for timeless and profitable listening. This is Rebuss CD debut, and Richard Hickox is a sympathetic advocate, albeit not quite erasing memories of Nicholas Braithwaites Lyrita LP of it.
One or two fortissimos are a little strident in Rebus, but balance is impeccable in the half-hour Oration, in which Alban Gerhardt once again proves to be not only a superb musician and cellist but also a really committed advocate for works on the fringe. He gives a gripping account of the solo part in this First War-inspired piece completed in 1930 Gerhardt and Hickox make the strongest possible case for this outcry against the futility of war (to quote from Paul Hindmarshs booklet note). Oration is not a rallying call; rather it is an intense and private expression of grief and anger, often beautiful if weighed-down in sorrow. The cellos role is not the traditional concerto solo; its more the burdened medium of the human soul. Whether in rumination or macabre dexterity, its the message of the music the final pages seem to offer some degree of hope rather than the virtuosity of the soloist that is important. Bridges haunting, haunted, somewhat exorcised vision of conflict is here given a reading that, for this listener at least, finally makes something compelling of it.
War and the specific World hostilities that engulfed Bridges consciousness also inhabit Lament, written in response to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the loss of Catherine, aged 9, and her family. Bridges poignancy is threaded through this short elegy for strings, one simple but eloquently effective in dealing with futile loss. A Prayer is also from this time, its orchestration not completed until 1918. It has a Vaughan Williams-like music for the people aura, one tailored to amateur choral societies, one with broad appeal in the directness of the expression. There are some glorious passages, sung and played here with exultation and dedication.
The Allegro moderato, probably the first movement of a symphony for string orchestra, its final bars completed by editor Anthony Pople, is, like Rebus, another example of Bridges distillation of essentials. Theres also powerful, even urgent communication (although I do wonder if Hickox undervalues the moderato of Bridges tempo marking) that searches through the forward-flow of ideas. A valuable piece for showing us where Bridge had reached when he laid down his pen for the last time 10 January 1941.