Bridge: The Pageant of London; Speak to me, my love!; Blow out, you bugles

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COMPOSERS: Bridge
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Bridge – Orchestral Works Vol. 6
WORKS: The Pageant of London; Speak to me, my love!; Blow out, you bugles
PERFORMER: Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Philip Langridge (tenor); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10310
Song is the core of this final disc in Chandos’s Bridge orchestral cycle. It begins and nearly ends with patriotic flourishes – ironic in light of the older Bridge’s impassioned pacifism. But after the Rupert Brooke setting Blow out, you bugles, the songs take us a long way from all that. The early Adoration and the later Where she lies asleep give a truer picture of the young Bridge: tender, sweet, teetering on the edge of sentimentality without ever quite falling into it. Though the orchestral version of the old favourite Love went a-riding is less brilliant and dynamic than the voice-and-piano original, the listener is soon rewarded with the subtle and hauntingly ambiguous Mantle of blue, followed by two supreme Bridge masterpieces: the Tagore settings Day after day and the achingly poignant Speak to me, my love! All these are sung beautifully by Sarah Connolly and Philip Langridge, accompanied with great sensitivity by Richard Hickox and the BBC NOW – the refined orchestral colouring captured to something like perfection by the recordings.

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If the wind-band Pageant of London sounds a tad less involved, that may be because Bridge makes a less than convincing imperial morale stiffener. But it’s fascinating to hear him in adopting such contrasting roles – the path to late mastery clearly took him through some surprising by-ways. Stephen Johnson