Bridge Oration

Music Web CD Review

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Cello Symphony op. 68 (1963) [37:37]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Oration – Concerto Elegiaco for cello and orchestra (1930) [30:41]
Steven Isserlis (cello)
City London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 12, 14 March 1987. DDD

There are plenty of links between Britten and Bridge. Britten was one of Bridge’s pupils. They both held pacifist sympathies. Britten was ‘blown away’ by Bridge’s suite The Sea and by the towering masterpiece that is Enter Spring – both heard by the young composer at the Norwich Festivals of the 1920s. The influence of Bridge and especially of The Sea can be heard in Britten’s Peter Grimes. Britten wrote his Frank Bridge Variations. Britten was instrumental in the Bridge revival of the 1960s into the 1970s when Bridge’s music had sunk past the plunge of plummet. Aldeburgh was the scene of some fine Bridge revivals conducted by Britten – The Sea and Enter Spring. Britten’s circle including Steuart Bedford carried the Bridge baton forward into a world more accommodating of Bridge’s styles and idioms. That their two works for cello and orchestra are coupled on one CD now enjoying its third issue is fitting although to date this is the first and only such coupling. These recordings were first issued by EMI Classics as CDC 7 49716 2 in the late 1980s. They were then reissued as CDM7639092 in 1992 (also in the British Composers series) and they now reappear again.

The Cello Symphony was written for Rostropovich who made the iconic Decca recording of it with the composer and the ECO in the 1960s. It came two years after the War Requiem and Cello Sonata and one year before the Cello Suite No. 1. All these works were bound up with Rostropovich in one way or another. Isserlis and Hickox in their emotive performance are treated to a wide spread and warmly embracing recording. There are many highlights including the desolating serenade at end of first track; not to mention the Coplandesque stride of the trumpet entwining the cello in tr. 5. From time to time one also hears music harking back to Grimes and to the Purcell Variations. As for the Bridge, which I must say puts the Britten in the shade in terms of sheer humane fibre and memorable quality, it is given a performance of powerful conviction if lacking the sheer concentration of the Lloyd Webber on Lyrita.

Previously these two major pieces have been grouped with other things – either shorter pieces by Bridge or similar concerto-scale pieces by other composers including Walton. Wallfisch’s Bridge is on a fine Nimbus CD is with Holst’s Invocation and with the Elgar concerto – a good juxtaposition since both are suffused with the impact of the Great War. The unjustly forgotten but superb Pearl recording by Alexander Baillie and the Cologne radio orchestra conducted by John Carewe had Enter Spring as an apt companion. It has been deleted – more’s the pity. The Chandos Bridge series’ Oration is played by Alban Gerhardt and is coupled with other Bridge. Then again there’s the perfectly balanced, and I think, definitive reading by Julian Lloyd Webber recently reissued on Lyrita. The Lyrita is adroitly matched with Peter Wallfisch’s Phantasm which stylistically speaking is in very much the same territory as Oration.

Rob Barnett

Classical Source  October 2007

MusicWeb  August 2007

The Independent 26th October 2006

Frank Bridge Oration review


Any festival that boasts Boris Johnson as president sounds like a boisterous occasion. Heirs and Rebels, the first English Music Festival to be mounted in and around Dorchester, south Oxfordshire, is devoted to the “diversity, innovation and brilliance” of English composers often neglected in concert programming.

It’s a bold venture. Where else would one bump into the Viola Sonata of Alger- non Ashton, a rhapsody by Elgar’s supporter William Reed, and a suite by Benjamin Dale? Or venture into Lord Berners’ Luna Park, and spot Jeremy Irons narrating Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy?

The five-day festival’s opening concert was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra, which rapidly made its mark with a blistering fanfare — shades of Tippett and Walton, but cleverly original – newly commissioned from Gareth Wood. Stylish and witty, it could win a place in the repertoire.

The chance to hear rare Hoist, scintillatingly played, was welcome. His Walt Whitman Overture of 1899 occupies an attractive netherworld of post-Meistersinger froth; it could have used even more élan than it received here.

Clarinet and viola heralding Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody No 1 unleashed a shiveringly beautiful performance, revelling in the warmth of the folk song idiom, utterly fresh in its day (1906).

The most bracing work was by Britten’s mentor, Frank Bridge. Oration, his haunting cello concerto, is a passionate outcry against the ravages of the Great War. The inexorable trudge of its dark, passacaglia-like cortege, chromatic and knotty, seemed to sum up the miseries f the Front. Julian Lloyd Webber proved utterly sympathetic to the angst-ridden solo line, as the cello strives to extricate a pained and poignant lyricism from the tensions of the orchestral hinterland.

Lloyd Webber returned for more Holst — his rarely- heard Invocation (1911)— for a memorable second half contribution. Yet it was Sullivan who made the running his Irish Symphony given the full works, setting the pace for the symphonies of Stanford to come. Patently English music, and palpably alive and kicking.

– Roderic Dunnett

Daily Telegraph 23rd October 2006

Frank Bridge Oration review

Missing out on many good things in Dorchester

English Music Festival, DORCHESTER ABBEY

It would be difficult to imagine a more fragrant spot than Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire for this first English Music Festival, but equally it would be disingenuous to claim that the village is on everyone’s doorstep. Maybe it was the rural seclusion that contributed to the fact that the abbey was hardly heaving with patrons for the flagship inaugural concert on Friday, given by the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones.

The modest attendance was a pity, because a great deal of passion had gone in to planning this event, and the programming was out of the ordinary. As Boris Johnson, the festival’s president, said last week, there is no need to apologise for English music when, as we heard here, there are works of strength by the likes of Hoist, Vaughan Williams ad Frank Bridge.

The most familiar item was Sullivan’s “Irish Symphony”, in itself scarcely a core repertoire work, and, it must be said, not the most persuasive either. But two different facets of Holst were more interesting. On the one hand, there was his “Invocation” for cello and orchestra, travelling very much in the same orbit as “Venus” from The Planets. On the other, there was his “Walt Whitman Overture”, in which “The Planets” seemed to be light years away. The overture is an early work, a robust piece in which the German influences of Wagner, Mendelssohn and Strauss are barely concealed, but it had an exhilarating thrust which Lloyd-Jones and the orchestra harnessed spiritedly.

The evening had started with a rousing, celebratory fanfare by Gareth Wood, written for the BBC’s current Listen Up! series embracing a broad spectrum of British orchestras and of which this concert was a part. Vaughan Williams’s “Norfolk Rhapsody” No 1 evoked a quieter, mistier Englishness of the fens, beautifully and supply played and intriguing in the way that its line gusts of woodwind filigree seemed to pre-echo devices that Britten employed to moot the mystery of Suffolk in “Peter Grimes”.

The soloist in Holst’s “Invocation” was Julian Lloyd Webber, who also played Bridge’s “Oration”, a work haunted by memories of the First World War. Darkly rhapsodic, brooding and bitter, the music is intensely reflective, and Lloyd Webber’s performance encompassed a range of affecting emotion that was deeply poignant.

Geoffrey Norris

Gramophone February 1993

Stanford, Bridge, Ireland

“Lloyd Webber and McCabe give what seems to me an ideal performance, for they pursue it with great flair, imagination and strength. I recommend this disc unreservedly.”

– Alan Saunders

BBC Music Magazine January 1993

Stanford, Bridge, Ireland

“Put simply, this is just marvellous cello playing. The expansiveness of the music draws passionate but beautifully shaded playing from Lloyd Webber.”

– Annette Morreau

Records & Recording 1979

Record guide pick of the month

BRIDGE: Oration – Concerto Elegiaco for cello and orchestra (F105). Two Poems after Richard Jefferies (F126).
Allegro Moderato for string orchestra (F162). Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite.
Lyrita SRCS 104. £4.42.

This exceptionally interesting and important record provides a fitting climax to Frank Bridge’s centenary year. It also fills an important gap in the Frank Bridge discography that would scarcely have been visible only a short while ago. Thanks to Lyrita’s enterprise in recording the major portion of his orchestral work (with a little help from elsewhere) it would seem that only two very early works – the substantial Symphonic Poem Isabella and the tiny Berceuse for violin and orchestra and one very late but not very important one, the Vignettes de Danse for small orchestra of 1940 remain unrecorded although, of course, there still remain. some early but important chamber works to be done, notably the first two String Quartets and the String Sextet. All this has happened within the space of the last two or three years. After so long a time in the wilderness, Bridge’s rehabilitation has been a unique phenomenon and there is every indication that it may be permanent. The record companies deserve a good deal of the credit for this.

The three works recorded here represent three different aspects of Bridge. Two have long been known, but rarely played. One will be new to almost everybody. Perhaps we should deal with them chronologically. The Two Poems after Richard Jeffenes date from 1915 and were published by Augener in 1923. They have at least enjoyed the occasional performance over the years. The two poems which inspired Bridge were The Open Air and The Story of my Heart When we think of the time at which these two short and beautiful pastoral pieces were written it may come as a surprise to find in them an unruffled calm and serenity, as if Bridge was painting a golden sunset to a vanishing world which was never to return. The first piece is a gentle idyll whose pastel shades remind one of Delius while the second is a gay and lively dance of life. These untroubled little works may perhaps have been written before the full impact of the war had registered on Bridge – a war which in 1914 was a local affair that was all going to be over by Christmas.

The Cello Concerto, Oration is a very different work which dates from 1930, long after Bridge had thrown off any notions of an idyllic life and had faced up to the stark reality and disillusionment of the world as it really was. Arch-typical of Bridge’s late manner, it is one of his finest, most deeply felt works. It is quite unlike a cello concerto in the traditional sense, the solo instrument being a vehicle to underpin Bridge’s deeper emotional feelings, clouded by inner grief and despair. The oration is a public eulogy for all who were lost in the great conflict, not without dignity and grandeur as a public utterance of grief and like any well-thought-out eulogy, it has substance and form a one movement arch structure on the concept of the Phantasie framed by an extended introduction full of forboding and a withdrawn, introspective epilogue. In between Bridge evokes many changing, shirting moods but its central march-like section with its insistent four-in-a bar beat on the timpani, heard from afar as if of a distant memory, Mr Payne in his sleeve-note identifies as an evocation of the platoons of the dead marching past. A tone picture, but not a tone poem, there are fleeting moments of happier times recalled but they are of short duration. Bridge’s personal inner conflict is not easily shared with a distracted outside world, especially at this distance in time. Even if the work had been long published and accessible instead of the other way round, it is doubtful that it could ever achieve universal popularity, but it is a key work in our understanding of Bridge and in our own uncertain world it can perhaps serve as a warning not to make the same mistakes as our fathers and grandfathers did. With the cello as the orator, the orchestra as his vocabulary, this remarkable work crystalises feelings that were to be declared in more forceful dramatic form by Bridge’s pupil, Benjamin Britten in his War Requiem of 1962, affected as he so clearly was by Bridge’s philosophy in his formative years and re-enforced by his own experience of yet another human castastrophe that Bridge did not live to see run its course.

Julian Lloyd Webber generates impressive energy and nervous tension in the Concerto Elegiaco which I would judge to be a very difficult work to interpret and possibly open to more than one valid reading, but I think we have everything to admire here in a pioneer recording of impressive strength and conviction. Nicholas Braithwaite, who seems to have special empathy for a British repertoire of the kind Lyrita have for so long promoted, is a conductor of wide experience and growing stature not only in the concert hall, but also in the opera house. He is currently Musical Director of the Glyndeborne Touring Opera and permanent guest conductor of the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra and has toured widely. Clearly recorded and finely balanced, the whole production is of the highest standard and I hope it will meet with the success it deserves.

Musical Times August 1979

“Particularly valuable was Julian Lloyd Webber’s marvellous performance at the opening concert of Bridge’s ‘Oration’, a work that should surely gain a permanent place in the repertory.”

Classical Music 2nd June 1979

Frank Bridge Oration (first public performance)
Bridge Cello Concerto (Oration)

“To secure a performance of Oration was a remarkable coup; this imposing 28-minute cello concerto is practically unknown, a situation which will be rectified later this year when a recording by Julian Lloyd Webber, the soloist on this occasion, is issued. His commitment to it was evidenced by playing of superb technical accomplishment and magnificent passion.”

Lyndon Jenkins