Proms 2011: Is it time to reconsider Frank Bridge?

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Nick Shave is pleasantly surprised by the composer's work at Prom 19

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One of the noticeable themes that threads its way through this year's Proms is director Roger Wright's fondness for lesser-known British composers. Where else will you hear Havergal Brian's sprawling Gothic Symphony performed; which other festivals would devote evenings to works by Arnold Bax and Frank Bridge? And after Brian's dubious entre into this year's festivities, you might ask, where else would you want to hear these so-called second-rank composers?

But at Prom 19, I was pleasantly surprised by Bridge's There is a Willow That Grows Aslant a Brook – a work I hadn't heard for some time. Under Oliver Knussen, and in the hands of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the string writing took on an extraordinary clarity, and the work's shimmering colours and dark undercurrents were beautifully realised. It was one of the highlights in an imaginatively themed programme, which began with the mechanistic Pacific 231 of Arthur Honegger, followed by the same composer's rarely heard Pastorale d'ete (again, some beguiling string textures) and wound up with Debussy's work from Eastbourne, La Mer.

As if to highlight that Bridge was a composer who looked across the channel to more modernist trends, Berg's Der Wein, in which soprano Claire Booth proved exemplary, was a fitting conclusion to the first half of the concert and Niccolo Castiglioni's Inverno in-ver - 11 musical poems for orchestra inspired by winter landscapes - a welcome introduction to the second. I look forward to the Bridge-fest next week, and to Louise Fryer's discussion at the Royal College that asks the question: why should Bridge be better known?

Prom 19
Honegger: Pacific 231, Pastorale d'été
Bridge: There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook
Berg: Der Wein
Castiglione: Inverno in-ver
Debussy: La mer
Claire Booth (sop); BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
 

Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is Contributing Editor of BBC Music Magazine. A regular reviewer and blogger of the Proms, he can usually be found at the Royal Albert Hall with only seconds to spare, breaking into an ungainly powerwalk somewhere between the ticket collection desk and the stalls