WORKS: Bax: Spring Fire; Delius: Idylle de printemps; North Country Sketches: The March of Spring; Bridge: Enter Spring
PERFORMER: Hallé/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: CD HLL 7528
First, the Hallé’s stellar playing: it’s genuinely hard to imagine how music of this English vintage could be performed better. Not only is everything beautifully idiomatic and clear, there’s also strong characterisation in every department, with a particularly vivid response to Bridge’s intricate solo woodwind writing. The choice of spring-related music, too, is far from routine. Bax’s Spring Fire, dating from 1913, is a substantial, five-movement programme symphony based on a Swinburne poem, full of the composer’s beloved nymphs, satyrs, dryads and bassarids disporting themselves in an idealised pastoral landscape. While the faster movements don’t roister quite as rampantly as their composer wanted them to, the slower, dreamier ones contain some lovely material.
Delius’s early Idylle, composed during his first stay in France, is a beautifully written, already strongly individual creation, sitting happily alongside The March of Spring from over two decades later. And a fine performance of Enter Spring then reveals Bridge’s rhapsody as perhaps the ultimate achievement of English musical pastoralism, at once exquisitely celebrating that tradition and extending beyond it in an eruptive technical tour de force. The Hallé players deliver these riches with state-of-the-art finesse: the only (small) regret is that Elder’s streetwise, not-too-slow tempo marginally undercuts something of the work’s incisive grandeur, by putting a far from unappealing smoothness and fluency in its place. Memories are not effaced of the RLPO’s long-deleted recording under Sir Charles Groves, whose reading of Bridge’s masterwork had a kind of great-hearted wonderment that remains unforgettable. Elder’s by comparison is just very, very good. Malcolm Hayes