Saturday, 14 May 2016

Peter Racine Fricker: Wind Quintet, Op.5: A Forgotten Delight Part II

Fricker’s Wind Quintet, op.5 has been recorded commercially once. In 1962, the London Wind Quintet issued an LP (Argo ZRG 5326) of wind quintets which included Fricker’s. Other works on this album were Malcolm Arnold’s irrepressible Three Shanties for wind quintet (1952), Mátyás Seiber’s Permutazioni a cinque (1958) and Roberto Gerhard’s Wind Quintet (1928).  The performers were Gareth Morris, flute; Sidney Sutcliffe, oboe; Bernard Walton, clarinet; Gwydion Brooke, bassoon and Alan Civil, horn.  The album was recorded in association with The British Council.
Malcolm MacDonald’s review in The Gramophone (February 1963) suggested that the two major works on this album were the Gerhard and the Fricker. Of the latter, he writes ‘… [This] is a four movement work which extracts extraordinarily effective music from the five players. Much of it is extremely vital, and rather less astringent in idiom that some of Fricker’s later pieces.’ He reiterates the point that this was the first of the composer’s works to make ‘any substantial headway, winning the Clements Memorial Chamber Music Prize in 1947,’ Finally MacDonald adds wittily that he was ‘jolly glad [the quintet] was not submitted the year before, when a trio of my own won the prize.’  This was a Trio for piano, violin and clarinet: it seems to have sunk without trace.

Dennis Brain made a live recording of the Fricker Wind Quintet at the Freemason’s Hall, Edinburgh on 24 August 1957. Other works at the recital included Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments in E-flat major, op. 16, Paul Dukas’ Villanelle for horn and piano, Malipiero’s Dialogue No. 4 for wind quintet (1956). The original tape of the Fricker Quintet was remastered and issued on the BBC Legends label in 2006.
Marc Mandel reviewing this CD in Fanfare (September 2007) noted that the booklet described this recording as the ‘definitive performance’. He considers the work as ‘well-crafted’ but ‘thanklessly academic and cheerless.’ Mandel also reminds the reader that the recital was held just a week before Dennis Brain was killed in a late-night car crash whilst travelling home from the Edinburgh Festival (1 September 1957). He was aged just 36.
The Brain Wind Quintet version of the present Quintet is still available on CD from record dealers, although I understand that it has been deleted from the catalogues.

Peter Racine Fricker’s Wind Quintet, op.5 would make an ideal piece for performers to play in concert or to record. It has an impressive balance between seriousness and wit. The ethos of the music represents what was one particular strand of musical thought in the post-war years. Others were represented by the ‘serialists’ like Humphry Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens, the traditionalists including as Alun Hoddinott and Kenneth Leighton, the conservatives like Edmund Rubbra and Robert Simpson and the disciples of Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was composed nearly a decade before the rise of the avant-garde led by the Manchester Group.
The Wind Quintet has considerable musical substance and does not present the listener with great challenges of extreme dissonance or long-windedness.

Gamble, Stephen & Lynch, William, Dennis Brain: A Life in Music, (Denton, Texas, University of North Texas Press, 2011)
Pettitt, Stephen, Dennis Brain: A Biography (London, Robert Hale, 1989)
The files of The Times, The Musical Times, Musical Opinion, The Chesterian, etc.

London Wind Quintet, (includes quintets by Seiber, Arnold and Gerhard) (Argo ZRG 5326) 1962, LP

Brain Wind Quintet on BBC Legends Mono BBCL 4192-2 2006 (recorded 24 August 1957)

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