CD Review

British throughout


© Chris Green, March 2013


With all the current controversy about food labelling and the presence of horse meat in food products that should have contained meat from other animals, I can report that this selection of music is exactly what it says on the label- British throughout.

This year - 2013- may be dominated by the 100 th anniversary of Suffolk-born Benjamin Britten - born in a town looking eastwards towards the Netherlands - there are many other composers who should be given their correct place in the development of British music. One of those is Britten's teacher, Frank Bridge (1879-1941). Britten seemed to warm to this teacher, whereas others had caused him to rebel. Listen to Bridge's Four movements that comprise The Sea, and there is more than a passing hint of Britten's later Four Sea Interludes.

Coming to Bridge's chamber music is something of a shock. His four String Quartets are too rarely programmed, and yet they reflect a transition from late Romanticism (listen to the striking opening of Quartet No 1) to the influence of the Second Viennese School . At times jagged chromaticism dominates, but there is no lack of the lyricism and passion runs throughout the earlier of the two quartets. The Maggini Quartet and Naxos Records are to be congratulated for making Bridge's music available to us on CD, and two of the Quartets appear in a 2002 recording made at Potton Hall, in Suffolk . String Quartet No 1 in E minor is subtitled Bologna, the result of a competition in that place for which it was entered. Written within one month of 1906, it contrasts with then tonal language of the coupling, the String Quartet No 3 completed in 1926 to a commission from an American patron. Of the quartet, Bridge wrote "That this score contains the best of me I do not doubt". That is what he thought, and who are we to challenge that? Altogether more advanced in its tonal language and structure, this is a different sound world which must have been the kind of music which excited the young Britten, then 13 years old. I know that in the hands of the talented Maggini Quartet, Bridge's music is presented in vibrant and compelling performances ( Naxos 8.8557133).

In the same year that Frank Bridge was born in a town on the south coast of England, Cyril Scott was born. Coincidentally, he outlived Bridge by 29 years and both died in same town - Eastbourne . As a child I recall learning many piano pieces by Scott- miniatures and laying easily under the fingers. It was those pieces by which his name was to become known but, as the sleeve note to a reissued CD of his music recalls, Scott was not well pleased by the fact that his bigger works were overlooked. It took Lyrita Records to bring his name to a wider public in 1976 with a recording of his two Piano Concertos with celebrated pianist, the late John Ogdon, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Herrmann (Lyrita SRCD 251) . These big-boned concertos are each different in many ways- the earlier of the two written in 1913-14 lasts just under 49 minutes whilst the second composed in 1958 is under half that length. In many ways that makes for a stronger work for melody is not one of Scott's greatest strengths. On the other hand, the concertos are colourfully scored with plenty of challenges for the soloist, a role that Ogdon during his best years was equal match.

In the same year as Frank Bridge and Cyril Scott, John Ireland was born in the north of Essex but like his contemporaries he migrated to the south coast of England where he died. West Sussex provided him with inspiration for the subject of his music, as it did for Sir Edward Elgar, but then so did London as is evidenced by one of the orchestral works featured in a reissue of a Lyrita recording from the 1960s in which Sir Adrian Boult conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of Ireland's music (Lyrita SRCD 240) . Ireland could write on an epic scale even though the compositions are contained within a modest time span. Six works are included ending with the suite from the film, The Overlanders . Colourful, strong tunes and nostalgic moments rub shoulders with music with a sense of occasion such as Epic March, composed in the ear I was born, at the request of the BBC and played - probably as a morale booster during the dark days of World War II as a morale booster at the first night of the Promenade Concerts conducted by Sir Henry Wood.