Bridge: Dance Rhapsody; Five Entr’actes (from The Two Hunchbacks); Dance Poem; Norse Legend; The Sea

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bridge
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Dance Rhapsody; Five Entr’actes (from The Two Hunchbacks); Dance Poem; Norse Legend; The Sea
PERFORMER: BBC NO of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10012
Most of this repertoire has no current recorded competition, with the only challenges coming in The Sea: from Britten’s vibrant live reading (BBCMusic), Charles Groves’s affectionate Liverpool version (EMI) and Vernon Handley’s digital recording with the Ulster Orchestra (Chandos). Hickox is better recorded even than that – deep and detailed, if sometimes over-resonant; and in the quality of the orchestral playing he outdoes both Handley and Groves. Britten is a special case – musically he is the most perceptive among the conductors, but the ECO doesn’t have the sheer weight that you need for the opening ‘Seascape’ or the final ‘Storm’, though his loving moulding of ‘Moonlight’ is unbeatable. But Hickox is only just behind him, and the rest of the CD tips the balance in the younger man’s favour.

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He gives us the Dance Rhapsody without the composer’s cut in the final quickstep (unlike the long unavailable Lyrita LP) so that it sounds less like an afterthought, and the strong orchestral playing gives full play to the Baxian nobility of the horns in the introduction and coda, and the romantic sweep of the waltzes. Waltzes also make up the Dance Poem, but they’re a different matter, harmonically less lush, and melodically more angular. In the notes, Paul Hindmarsh makes the comparison with Jeux, and there’s a similar transparency of texture – which allows some sensitive solo work within the orchestra – even if Bridge’s climaxes are beefier than Debussy’s. I would have preferred a reduced orchestra in the lighter Five Entr’actes and Norse Legend, but that’s a minor quibble in what’s turning out to be a fine series. Martin Cotton