Oration (Concerto elegiaco)
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded May 2003 in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2004
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10188
Duration: 77 minutes
Chandos’s estimable Frank Bridge series reaches Volume 4.
Rebus, Bridge’s 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 Rebus’s CD debut, and Richard Hickox is a sympathetic advocate, albeit not quite erasing memories of Nicholas Braithwaite’s 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 Hindmarsh’s 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 cello’s role is not the ‘traditional’ concerto solo; it’s more the burdened medium of the human soul. Whether in rumination or macabre dexterity, it’s 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. Bridge’s 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 Bridge’s 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. Bridge’s 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 Bridge’s distillation of essentials. There’s also powerful, even urgent communication (although I do wonder if Hickox undervalues the ‘moderato’ of Bridge’s 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.