Two Poems for Orchestra
Mid of the Night
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 9950 Duration: 76 minutes Reviewed: November 2001
Frank Bridge 1
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
At last! This is the beginning of Chandos and Richard Hickoxs much anticipated survey of Frank Bridges orchestral music, six CDs I believe.
Bridge (1879-1941), born in Brighton, died in Eastbourne, studied with Stanford this information is all you need to write Bridge off as a South Coast British composer, one trained at the Royal College. There was a time when Bridge was solely remembered for being Benjamin Brittens teacher; fortunately the scope of his achievements as a composer is now more appreciated, not least in his embracing of musical developments from across the channel. Bridge, a pacifist, emerged from the First War with an altogether freer and tougher style, one with a kinship to Alban Berg. Pre-war pieces The Sea (1911) for example are recognisably English, references being Bax and Delius, yet his own mastery is personal and distinctive.
The broader horizons of his later music are wonderfully displayed by Enter Spring, from 1927. Bridges impressionistic and luxurious brand of pastoralism might suggest Scriabin, certainly Berg, and theres a wind of harmonic change blowing across the rugged landscape that Bridge so vividly conjures. Enter Spring is now quite well known through recordings by Groves, Carewe and Marriner; and not least the live Aldeburgh performance conducted by Britten (BBC Legends). Bridges evocativeness is remarkable, as is the glorious melody that emerges at the mid-point, which will appear in triumph at the close; Hickox leads a subtly blended, exultant performance.
Its a long way back to Isabella, completed in 1907, Bridge emerging from Stanfords tutelage; Liszt is the model, Tchaikovsky informs the scoring and emotions. Isabella is a lovely work both in melodic bloom and nocturnal colours. Lorenzo, Isabellas murdered lover (by her two brothers), visits her as a ghost and she departs to the forest to dig his body up. Normal sort of day! Bridges music is atmospheric and suggestive, the closing minutes very Tchaikovskian; a Victorian sense of melodrama is omnipresent making Isabella a fascinating period piece.
This is the first recording of Mid of the Night indeed this studio realisation is but its second performance and is even earlier, 1903. Under Stanford, Bridge would have been much exposed to Brahms and Dvorak. As is made evident by Isabella, Bridge was drawn to the emotional and fantastical world of Tchaikovsky; Mid of the Night is even more specific as to this influence on him. The memorable melody that begins at 645 also brings a flavour of Elgar, more so in its lighter reprise at 734, and then the chivalric countenance of Elgars Froissart emerges briefly. Wind and string solos and much to ravish the senses lead to a climax; the suggestion of dawns arrival energises activity, as if more night-time is required. At 26 minutes, Mid of the Night is perhaps overlong, yet it seems more successful than the concentrated Isabella, possibly because it grows from a literary idea while Isabella is explicit of Keats storyline.
Two Poems is a pivotal work in Bridges output. Written in 1915, the firsts harmonic shifts and dream-like melodic wafting create a very special retreat, one that reflects and consoles, Bridges reticence speaking volumes about reaction to lifes horrors; the falling phrase that emerges at 250 is quite devastating, heart-stopping, especially with Hickox and his players so inside Bridges soul. The companion piece rumbustious, carefree and brilliantly orchestrated testifies to Bridges wit.
I christened a rather expensive pair of headphones with this CD. Chandoss recording is typically expansive in both space and dynamics; every detail is crystal-clear. Frank Bridge, Volume One, is urgently recommended. Volume Two is eagerly anticipated.