Bridge Orchestral Works, Vol 4
Here’s probably the most appealing and varied instalment yet in Richard Hickox’s Frank Bridge series for Chandos. It opens with the 1940 Rebus overture, as invigorating and impeccably crafted a concert-opener as any British composer has yet produced (why we don’t hear it more often baffles me). Hickox’s affectionate reading misses the acerbic snap of Nicholas Braithwaite’s pioneering LPO account (Lyrita, 11/79 – nla). A touch more transparency would not have gone amiss either: those glowering timpani rolls between figs 15 and 16 (4'15" and 4'23") barely register at all.
Next comes the disc’s highlight, a superb performance of the 1930 ‘Concerto elegiaco’ Oration, in which Hickox teams up with the gifted German cellist Alban Gerhardt. High drama and emotional candour are the keynotes to a riveting display which complements Hickox’s earlier, softer-spoken version with Steven Isserlis (last available on EMI British Composers, 2/92 – nla). At the same time, there’s no want of intimacy or compassion in the more contemplative passages, and the result is a trenchant interpretation that does justice to one of the towering masterpieces of British music.
The touching Lament (1915) is sensitively done, but Hickox and company seem less comfortable in Anthony Pople’s completion of the patiently argued opening Allegro moderato from a projected symphony for strings upon which Bridge was working at the time of his death in 1941. As recorded, the BBC NOW strings lack breadth of tone, and Hickox’s conception doesn’t have the grip of its Lyrita predecessor (1/80 – nla). Fortunately, the final item brings a return to form in the shape of a glowing account of A Prayer. Bridge’s only composition for chorus and orchestra, it’s a moving and often hauntingly beautiful setting from 1916-18 of words from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
Minor strictures notwithstanding, this is an essential purchase for Oration alone – and the music itself deserves the widest dissemination.