Favourite English Strings
Sakari Oramo and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra give us a finely disciplined Frank Bridge Variations of pungent character, fiery snap and arresting incident. It’s a performance whose nervy, questing undertow satisfyingly brings out this astoundingly inventive piece’s affinity with the more progressive European music of the time in much the same way that Bridge’s own mature output does; indeed, both the ‘Funeral March’ (Var 8) and imploring threnody which emerges after that disarming chain of Bridge quotations in the ‘Fugue and Finale’ (Var 10) have a positively Bergian intensity about them. Ultimately, I do prefer the extra lustre, composure and unforced eloquence of, say, Andrew Davis’s memorably perceptive BBC SO version (Warner Apex, 10/01) as well as Britten’s own (and, to my mind, still unrivalled) 1966 recording with the ECO (Decca, 1/87), but this sparky newcomer has plenty to say and is definitely worth experiencing.
The Allegretto poco lento waltz from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls of 1906 for string quartet that Britten borrowed for his 1937 masterwork crops up again (fleshed out for string orchestra) towards the end of the programme, and we also get ideally spry and glowing accounts of Bridge’s radiant, entrancingly resourceful treatments of ‘Sally in our alley’ and ‘Cherry ripe’ that make up his Two Old English Songs from 1916 (played in reverse order on my finished copy). It’s preceded here by uncommonly shapely and refreshingly mobile readings of Elgar’s Serenade and Finzi’s wistful Romance, which reveal once more Oramo’s comprehensive understanding of this repertoire.
Boasting vivid sound and truthful balance, this Alba release certainly merits investigation.