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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Oration - Concerto elegiaco for cello and orchestra (1930) [31:07]
Phantasm - Rhapsody for piano and orchestra (1931) [27:19]
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)
Peter Wallfisch (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. October 1976, Southwark (Oration); November 1975, Kingsway Hall (Phantasm). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.244 [58:32]

This is a disc for Bridge connoisseurs.
In one volume is gathered his two major post-War (WW1) concerto scores. Each marks a scorched apotheosis from the summery pastorals of Edwardian innocence into a world of half-lights and disillusion. Beauty and gritty triumph are there but they are always hard won. The language shows an expressionist tendency, an awareness of Berg, of Schreker and Zemlinsky. That the awareness was also coupled with a willingness - an aptitude to adopt this very different language was down to the tragedy of the Great War. Its effect can also be felt in the Piano Sonata, the final two string quartets and the Piano Trio No. 2 - all of which are to feature in Lyrita reissues of classic Decca recordings in the Autumn.
I first became aware of these initially forbidding scores from broadcasts in the mid/late 1970s. Oration came out of the blue in a studio recording (repeated several times) of Thomas Igloi (cello) with the ECO conducted by Frederick Prausnitz. Phantasm was played by Peter Wallfisch (father of Raphael who has recorded Oration for Nimbus) with the ECO conducted by Steuart Bedford. It's a pity that they have not been issued - especially the magical Igloi Oration.
Oration might well be taken as an outcry against the futility of war. It radiates brooding anger and grievous tragedy. Julian Lloyd Webber is an eloquent orator articulating Everyman as victim, as the bereft and as the protester. There is that bloodied but unbowed sense yet the music is completely unsentimental. Oration is a great work given here a great performance although I seem to remember reading that the sessions were virtually sight-read. The Epilogue, with its eldritch chiming and wistfully whistling strings, sings a benediction and a last soulful phrase from the cello over rising protest and a sighing into silence; nothing of the carnival here.
It is typical of Lyrita's high artistic standards that there is a long silence between the end of Oration and the start of Phantasm. Wraiths and dispossessed spirits seem to wander through an impressionistic world with some Gallic elements. It is more dissonant than Oration. The second movement in particular has a ruthless activity about it and an almost murderous seriousness of purpose. One can imagine Bernard Herrmann loving this work - I wonder if he ever performed it, perhaps with the CBS network when he was performing so many British works in the 1940s. The darkly spangled heroism at 2.01 in the allegro moderato has some parallels with Nights in the Gardens of Spain but here the gardens are full of lichen, poisonous greenery and leering misshapen creatures. If Oration is Concerto Elegiaco then Phantasm could easily have been Concerto Macabre. It would have fascinated Peter Warlock, Cecil Gray, Bernard van Dieren and Constant Lambert. This is a magnificent work which is by no means entirely wispy mezzotints - the two allegro movements II and IV radiate a devastatingly effective heroism shot through with morbidity. None of the movements are without Bridge's touching yet tortured lyricism even if it is glimpsed through shattered mirror shards - half Ravel and half Schoenberg.
The thirty-plus year old recordings report a myriad lapidary details yet retain solid impact and a great sense of depth of field.
This is the first time these two works have been coupled on a single disc. Previously they have been grouped with other things - either shorter pieces by Bridge or similar concerto-scale pieces by other composers. Isserlis's EMI recording was with the Britten Cello Symphony. Wallfisch's is with the Elgar concerto - a good juxtaposition since both are suffused with the impact of the Great War. The unjustly forgotten but superb Pearl recording by Alexander Baillie and the Cologne radio orchestra conducted by John Carewe had Enter Spring as an apt companion and has been deleted - more’s the pity. The Chandos series’ Oration is played by Alban Gerhardt and is coupled with other Bridge.
In terms of choice if you want two majestic and subtly powerful works of tragic and even sinister grandeur then this disc is for you. These are their first ever commercial recordings and they are by no means uncompetitive in any sense - quite the contrary. The recordings still sound superb.
The notes are by Bridge expert Paul Hindmarsh.
Rob Barnett

Reviews of other recordings of Bridge on Lyrita
SRCD.242 Boult conducts Bridge and Ireland
SRCD.243 Bridge Dance Rhapsody


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