Thursday, 1 May 2014

Peter Racine Fricker: Violin Concerto for Small Orchestra

When Peter Racine Fricker wrote his Violin Concerto for small orchestra he was regarded being something of an énfant terrible – writing music that owed more to Schoenberg and Webern rather than Vaughan Williams and Walton.  Yet he was deemed to be one of the most important composers writing at the time (along with Humphrey Searle and Iain Hamilton). Until hearing this Concerto on Lyrita (SRCD 276) the only work I had heard by Fricker was the Prelude Fugue and Elegy for Strings. This had been released on an old Pye Golden Guinea record (GGC 14042) coupled with music by Alan Rawsthorne. The passing of time has not dealt fairly to poor old Fricker. A brief look at the Arkiv catalogue shows only about a half dozen works from his large catalogue currently available on CD.
The Violin Concerto for small orchestra Op.11 was composed by Peter Racine Fricker in 1950. It was badly received by at least one reviewer in Music & Letters (April 1952).  He understands the work to be ‘vital’ and depicting the ‘spirit of the age’ yet he argues that ‘surely beauty must be present in some form.’  He notes that other critics had lauded this work and he deduces that ‘they’ must see something in this work that is ‘apparent to some and not to others’.
Yet listening to this Concerto some 60 years further down the road, I am impressed by the sheer lyricism of this work. Surely there is a ‘beauty’ in the opening ‘con moto’ movement that is obvious to all but the most ardent opponents of anything more modern in its soundscape that Elgar!  The language that Fricker uses does owe much to the spirit of the age – with the exception of jazz. Yet this is not a serial work as such – it is fair to say that it appears to be very much in a tonal idiom without ever abandoning the dissonance that was a characteristic of his style. This work is a well-balanced essay that certainly does not deserve to have sunk into obscurity. I know little of his music, but from what I have heard his reputation is surely due for reappraisal- hopefully by a raft of CDs and performances.
Peter Racine Fricker’s Violin Concerto for Small Orchestra can be heard on Lyrita SRCD 276.

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