Bridge: The Sea (CD review)

Also, Enter Spring; Summer; Two Poems for Orchestra. James Judd, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557167.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is one of those composers whom people may know better today as the teacher of Benjamin Britten than as a leading exponent of the British pastoral movement of the early twentieth century.

Be that as it may, Bridge followed a career in Romanticism until the First World War changed his disposition and outlook on music. From rich, flowing, descriptive tone poems his music took a turn toward harsher, more dissonant, more modern paths, and subsequently his popularity declined. Critics nowadays tend to praise his later, more-mature works, but that may be a reaction against Romanticism itself, which is only just beginning to make a comeback in contemporary classical music. Like it or not, however, it is Bridge’s early work that continues to sell and, I assume, to give people pleasure.

This Naxos disc brings together three of the composer’s best-known tone poems, The Sea, Enter Spring, and Summer, and it adds a couple of brief Poems for Orchestra, based on short poems by Richard Jeffries, for good measure.

While all of the music is delightful, the highlight of the disc is The Sea, sounding for all the world like Debussy’s La Mer. I suppose you could say of the early Bridge that he was England’s answer to France’s Debussy and Ravel, weaving intricate little tapestries of light and color, musical portraits that impressionistically and expressionistically touch the heart and soul. For instance, he divides The Sea into four movements--“Seascape,” “Sea-Foam,” “Moonlight,” and “Storm”--all of them pretty much self-explanatory. If you like the descriptive qualities of La Mer, you’ll like The Sea, which Bridge wrote just a few years after Debussy wrote La Mer, and it must have influenced him.

Maestro James Judd presents each of the pieces fluidly and meaningfully, never stopping to linger too long for sentimental reasons yet never relegating the music to the tired-warhorse bin, either. It’s a nice, forthright approach that captures most of the beauty and charm of Bridge’s work.

There are two “however’s,” though. The first “however” is that this Naxos release goes head-to-head with the justly famous 1975 recording of much the same material by Sir Charles Groves on EMI, which to my ears is more transparent sonically and more idiomatic interpretively. Moreover, the EMI disc contains not only The Sea, Enter Spring, and Summer, but the tone poems Cherry Ripe and Lament as well. The second “however” concerns the counterarguments that the budget-priced Naxos disc is cheaper by a couple of dollars than the mid-priced EMI disc, that the Naxos disc may be easier to find, and that a lot people will prefer the slightly softer, more-muted Naxos sound to the brighter, sharper-edged EMI sound.

In any case, a person can’t go wrong with the Naxos disc. It’s beautiful music, and it’s beautiful sound.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa