Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Arvo Part (b. 1935)
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra – Conducted by Norman Del Mar (Two Poems For Orchestra, Gloriana)
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Passacaglia, Sinfonia Da Requiem, Cantus)
Recorded at various English venues from 1977-1981.
I know the star of this disc is Benjamin Britten, but I have to say I think the star here is Frank Bridge’s Tone Poem #1 – a real charmer – (I can hear you all screaming “But ‘Passacaglia!’) – maybe my head needed something really pleasant to listen to – and it did not disappoint.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – John Mayhew – 1995.
This record celebrates the music of Britten and his mentor and teacher Frank Bridge, and ends with a tribute to his memory.
Frank Bridge studied composition under Stanford and became an accomplished viola player and conductor; when Britten was 14, Bridge gave him private lessons in composition and became a valued friend.
Bridge’s Two Poems (after Richard Jefferies) are among his lesser-known works. The first is scored for a standard orchestra of double woodwind, four horns, timpani, harp and strings and is prefaced by these words from ‘The Open Air’: ‘Those thoughts and feelings which are not sharply defined, but have a haze of distance and beauty about them, are always the dearest.’
The second poem is for a larger orchestra which includes trumpets, tuba and percussion; at the head of the score are these words from ‘The Story of my Heart’: ‘How beautiful a delight to make the world joyous! The song should never be silent, the dance never still, the laugh should sound like water which runs for ever.’
Gloriana was written for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and first staged at Covent Garden on 8th June 1953. Set in the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I, the opera is a skillful mix of Tudor idioms and rhythms and Britten’s own unmistakable style.
Some time after its first performance, Britten arranged an orchestral suite from the opera. First comes The Tournament, then Late Song whose optional tenor voice is usually taken by the oboe; the Courtly Dances are often heard independently, and the final movement is Gloriana moritura.
Peter Grimes was the first English opera to gain international footing and met with phenomenal success at its first performance at Sadler’s Wells in June 1945.
The Passacaglia is played between scenes in the second act; the theme depicts Grimes’ fall from grace and is repeated by bass instruments against variations played by the solo viola, which represents the apprentice – innocent, silent and fearful.
Sinfonia da Requiem was written ‘in a terrible hurry’ in 1940 while Britten was still in America. He wrote that it was ‘just as anti-war as possible’ and dedicated it to the memory of his parents; friends and loved ones living under threat in wartime England must have been in his mind as well.
First comes a slow marching lament with three motifs. Britten described the central movement as ‘a form of Dance of Death;’ it has a contrasting central section. The final Requiem Aeternum suggests a waves on a remote seashore and recalls a theme from the Lacrymosa movement.
The music of Arvo Part has only recently become widely know outside his native Estonia. Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten is scored for string orchestra and a single bell, and is based on a descending minor scale played simultaneously at three different speeds at the start. This was its first UK performance.
Part greatly regretted not having met Britten, for whose music, he had a deep regard and respect. He wrote that ‘I had just discovered Britten for myself and begun to appreciate the purity of his music.’
Norman Del Mar
The English conductor, teacher and writer Norman del Mar specialized in late romantic and English repertoire. He was frequently seen at the BBC Promenade Concerts and was Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 1960-65.
He conducted all the major British orchestras and was well-known throughout Europe, especially in Scandinavia. His writing includes a study of Richard Strauss and various books on conducting and the orchestra. He was awarded the CBE in 1975 and died in 1994.
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was born in Moscow in 1931, the son of two famous musicians. In 1951, following studies at the Moscow Conservatoire, he worked at the Bolshoi, where he conducted operas by Britten and Prokofiev; he was principal conductor of the Bolshoi from 1964 to 1970. His London debut was with the visiting Bolshoi Ballet in “The Sleeping Beauty” at Covent Garden in 1956. He was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1978 before leaving for Vienna in 1981.
The late Romantic and contemporary repertoire is of great interest to him, and he conducted a wide range of English music while he was with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Having made over 500 commercial recordings, he continues to conduct worldwide, to promote contemporary music and to teach, compose and to play piano duets with his wife Viktoria Postnikova. (Post-notes note: He died in 2018.)
Frank Bridge – Two Poems For Orchestra
- No. 1: Andante moderato e semplice – 7:45
- No. 2: Allegro con brio – 4:14
Benjamin Britten – Gloriana
- The Tournament – 3:53
- The Lute Song – 4:24
- The Country Dances – 9:20
- Gloriana Moritura – 6:47
Benjamin Britten – Passacaglia from ‘Peter Grimes’ – Opus 33b
- Passacaglia – (8:00)
Benjamin Britten – Sinfonia Da Requiem, Opus 20
- Lacrymosa – 8:03
- Dies irae – 4:52
- Requiem aeternam – 5:05
Arvo Part – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
- Cantus – 9:33
Discs like this one, curated “hits” attempting to pull together a theme (a tribute to Britten) are always kind of hard to write about. These are great recordings by really strong orchestras and legendary conductors. No complaints here – but also not much to say.