Peter Racine Fricker’s Prelude, Elegy and Finale for strings, op.10 was written during March and April 1949. It was dedicated to ‘Helen’, the composer’s wife. The same year saw the completion of Fricker’s Symphony No. 1 and the Rondo Scherzoso for orchestra and work on the Violin Concerto. Recent compositions had included chamber music, an Organ Sonata and Three Sonnets of Cecco Angiolieri, for tenor and seven instruments
The Prelude, Elegy and Finale premiere was given by the Darmstadt Stadttheater Orchestra conducted by Richard Kotz on 10 July 1949. The first broadcast performance was given on 12 January 1951 by the London Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anthony Bernard. I understand that the the first British public hearing was by the London Classical Orchestra conducted by Trevor Harvey at Chelsea Town Hall, 16 January 1951.
There is a YouTube video of the Prelude, Elegy and Finale played by the Little Orchestra of London under the baton of Leslie Jones.
In this Suite, the composer shows most noticeably amongst the admitted influences on his style that of Hindemith, thought the utterance is his individual reflection on life. This has been well-stated as ‘the bitter awareness, but not the resignation.’ Moreover, he has not in his aims felt compelled to resort to the ‘coarse violence’ and ear-shattering devices now almost invariably (though not always justly) associated with the modern composer. This is not to say, however, that his music is at first hearing the more assimilable, for he compresses so many pregnant ideas into small design, that much of the ingenuity is not straightaway apparent.
The three movements are played without a break. The short Prelude is broad and spacious, opening with a powerful utterance of an irregular scale figure set against resemblances of its own inversion, over a persistent pedal note. Soon a quieter theme emerges in the second violins, but the mood is desultory, and after a quiet but strangely dissonant chord suggesting abandonment, another bar of bustling agitation heralds the return of the opening ideas, but only momentarily. Over a harshly sounded and unresolved cadence through which the music subsides, the first violins appear to anticipate abortively their escape to the mood of the Elegy and their context is taken hold by the violas, and becomes focal matter of the climax. They also have the last opportunity of recapitulating the theme (in their tessitura with added pathos) the movement ending with brief references from the first violins against a dirge-like accompaniment. This is shrugged off immediately by the brisk, inspiring tune of the march-style Finale. A second theme, introduced by the violas, later (when doubled in note value) provides material for the fugato episode. The excitement of the final bars is heightened by the cleverly shifted accents, jolted to a halt by sustained declamatory octaves, and all ends enigmatically with a shattering chord.
Programme Note: Pye Golden Guinea GSGC-14042.