Thursday, 30 April 2009

Frank Bridge: Enter Spring -a review of the first performance

One of my favourite pieces in the British music repertoire is Frank Bridge's Enter Spring. The work is a relatively late piece, written in 1927. This follows the composer's change in musical outlook following the Great War. The background to this work lies in the beautiful Sussex Downs. Although Bridge’s life centred on London he was able to spend much time in his native county. In the nineteen-twenties Bridge and his wife built a house, Friston Field, near West Dean. It overlooked a large panorama of the Downs. I have always imagined that it was the English Channel that provided the inspiration for his other great work The Sea. The Downs were to provide the backdrop to Enter Spring. Originally it was to have been called On Friston Down but that name was abandoned.
This work is sunny, turbulent, colourful, exuberant and melancholic all in the space of twenty minutes. At the end of the work spring is truly ushered in. Would that I were on the Sussex Downs at Chanctonbury or Firle Beacon or West Dean to see it!
I have long believed that Enter Spring is Frank Bridge’s masterpiece . Furthermore, I consider it to be the finest tone poem in the repertoire of British music. Perhaps, Herbert Thompson was not quite as convinced by this piece on its first performance in 1927? Yet generally speaking he was quite generous towards what must have been quite a revolutionary piece for the time -at least in Norwich!

This work is currently available in three fine versions Chandos Naxos EMI Classics any one of which would make a fine introduction to this work.

The review given below is of the first performance at the Norwich Triennial Festival on 27 October 1927. The composer conducted the Queen's Hall Orchestra.

"One of the functions of a festival is to foster the art of composition, and though the results of such commissions may not be very encouraging, the principle is a right one. For this Festival only one new work, an orchestral composition, was chosen. In passing, it may be suggested that while orchestral novelties have an even better chance of being heard at ordinary orchestral concerts, a festival affords an occasion when choral music has a unique opportunity of full rehearsal, for which reason it should surely have the preference. Otherwise the decision to give Frank Bridge's orchestral Rhapsody, 'Enter, Spring,' was a sound one, for Mr. Bridge has shown himself to be a composer who unites a very complete musicianship to originality of thought. His work was one which laid itself open to the objection that can so easily be brought against all 'programme music,' in that the composer's conception of his subject may not coincide with that of the listener. It does not affect the value of 'Enter, Spring' that the composer should have departed from the conventional representation of that season, and imagined a blustering, riotous equinox. It is safer to judge his work simply as music, and from this point of view it commands respect, to which a warmer feeling may come in the closer acquaintance which its complexity and elaboration demand. It left me rather exhausted by a certain breathlessness involved in the constant dependence on fragmentary themes and incessant changes which even the Andante of the middle section did not entirely dissipate. What we did realise was that it furnished problems which were worth solving, and with a performance which by greater familiarity had acquired more ease and delicacy, some of the rough places might be made plain. "
The Musical Times December 1 1927 Herbert Thompson

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