Friday, 29 April 2016

Frank Bridge: Allegro moderato, from the Unfinished Symphony for String Orchestra, H.192 (1941) Part II

In 1979 Lyrita Recorded Edition issued the premiere recording of Frank Bridge’s Oration: Concerto elegiac for cello and orchestra, H.180 (1930). The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Nicolas Braithwaite with the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. Oration was coupled with the present ‘Allegro moderato’ and the ‘Two Poems’ with epigraphs by Richard Jefferies, H.118 (1915). JW (John Warrack) reviewing the record for The Gramophone (January 1980) considered the ‘Allegro moderato’ as ‘small by comparison’ to Oration.  Conversely, in the May 1980 edition of the same journal, John Steane regards all the works on this album as being ‘wholly compelling and often very powerful, [however] there is something here that does not carry total conviction.’   
In his assessment of the  re-issue of the Lyrita recording, Andrew Achenbach in his ‘Round Up’ of ‘The Best of British Returns’ (The Gramophone Awards 2006) insists that Braithwaite’s reading ‘remain[s] unrivalled in [his] book.’

A quartet of a century later, Chandos released ‘Volume 4’ of their conspectus of Bridge’s orchestral music. Once again, the coupling included Oration, with the cello soloist Alban Gerhardt. Other works featured were Rebus: overture for orchestra Lament (1915) and A Prayer for chorus and orchestra, H.140 (1916-18). Richard Hickox conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Andrew Achenbach (The Gramophone, June 2004) considered this CD ‘the most appealing and varied instalment yet’ in the present series.  He was impressed by most of the music here, nevertheless he feels that ‘Hickox and company seem less comfortable in Anthony Pople’s completion of the patiently argued opening ‘Allegro moderato’…As recorded, the BBC NOW strings lack breadth of tone, and Hickox’s conception doesn’t have the grip of its Lyrita predecessor.’ 
Slightly more positively, Andrew Farach-Colton (The Gramophone October 2007) whilst reviewing the CD re-issue of the Lyrita recording, considered that Hickox’s ‘taut, focused reading [which] provides a semblance of symphonic cohesion,’ balances Braithwaite who ‘elicits the stronger emotional charge.’ He could ‘not imagine being without either copy.’

Rob Barnett (reviewing Hickox) for MusicWeb International (April 2004) perceives the ‘Allegro moderato’ as a ‘classically clean work and very romantic for that time when you compare it with the bustle and elfin dissonance of Rebus.’
Finally, Peter J. Rabinowitz  in Fanfare (November 2004) noted that the ‘anguish of Oration is mirrored, at a lesser level of intensity, in the paradoxically lean and dissonant lyricism of the unfinished ‘Allegro moderato’ (all that exists of a symphony for strings that Bridge was working on when he died).’ 

The ‘Allegro moderato’ is the final utterance of a composer who had evolved through a number of diverse styles in his career. It reveals a man who, near the end of his life, was by no means short on inspiration.  This is a powerful, well-constructed piece that balances neo-classicism, romanticism and expressionism in a satisfying structure. It is to be regretted that the Symphony was never completed, but, on the other hand listeners should be extremely grateful to Dr Anthony Pople for providing the performing edition of this remarkable ‘last offering’.

Brief Bibliography:
Hindmarsh, Paul, Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (London, Faber & Faber, 1983).
Huss, Fabian, The Music of Frank Bridge, (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 2015)
Schaarwächter, Jürgen, Two Centuries of British Symphonism: From the beginnings to 1945, (George Olms, 2015)
The files of The Musical Times, Music & Musicians, The Gramophone, etc.

London Symphony Orchestra/Nicolas Braithwaite, Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Frank Bridge, Oration, Two Poems, Allegro moderato LYRITA SRCS.104 (1979) (Allegro moderato, coupled with Dance Rhapsody, Dance Poem, Two Poems & Rebus, was re-issued on SRCD.243, 2007)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox, Alban Gerhardt (cello), BBC National Chorus of Wales, Rebus, Oration, Allegro moderato, Lament, A Prayer CHANDOS CHAN 10188. 2004


garrod said...

I read parts one and two of your posts on Bridge's final work with mounting interest. A brilliant insight into one of the "fillers" on my Lyrita LP of Oration.
I will listen to Allegro Moderato armed with the historical backdrop supplied by you with great interest. Many thanks.

John France said...

Thanks for that, 'Garrod'!