Bridge • Bloch • Hough: In The Shadow Of War
Of the few available recordings of Frank Bridge’s mighty Oration, most are good: Alban Gerhardt gives a typically penetrating account (Chandos), while a lustrous-toned Raphael Wallfisch is convincing (Nimbus). Nevertheless, this profoundly engaging reading sets a new standard. Anyone who has heard Steven Isserlis’s gripping live performances of the work will recognise his intense engagement with Bridge’s complex narrative, his subtly nuanced dramatisation of each episode. What he has achieved in this beautifully balanced recording with Hugh Wolff is a breathtaking new fluency and freedom. The work initially ended in despair, reaching towards a Shostakovichian deadness of sound, but Bridge had second thoughts and allowed a glimmer of light to emerge in an exquisite Epilogue. The influence of those few, radiant bars in D major can be found in many of Britten’s works, from the finale of the Sinfonia da Requiem, to his own Cello Symphony.
There’s no doubt Isserlis’s playing is lifted to new heights by a sumptuous instrument, the late Zara Nelsova’s ‘Marquis de Corberon’ Strad, which she used to record Bloch’s Schelomo with the composer. Isserlis reprises this lyric meditation with supreme eloquence: from his opening all-too-human cry, nothing is forced or overdone, no rhetoric or posturing gets in the way of the work’s own soulful expression.
Hough’s The Loneliest Wilderness completes – or overdoes – the war-themed disc. Inspired by Herbert Read’s poem My Company, and with its lush strings and heroic solo cello, this elegiac work could have been written 100 years ago.