For the last quarter century, one of my favorite albums for pure relaxation has been EMI's recording of English composer, conductor, and violinist Frank Bridge's The Sea, among other short works with Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I mention this at the start because it may represent a lot people's introduction to Bridge's pastoral music. For more of the same, this 2001 Delos album with Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra offers three lesser-known pieces by the composer. Although they are not in the same league as the works on the EMI disc, they do demonstrate the innate sweetness of Bridge's touch.
The highlight of this Delos disc is a suite of four short pieces arranged for string orchestra called, appropriately, Four Pieces for String Orchestra. Bridge originally wrote the pieces as separate items, and Paul Hindmarsh assembled them for the suite we have here. The music makes for a wonderfully entertaining and soothing combination of sounds. The central Waltz is slightly macabre in tone but has a lovely lilt, and the closing Scherzo is vibrant and amusing.
Maestro Orbelian leads with a light, fluid touch; the Moscow players give him a comfortable, almost cushy response; and Ms. Rosenberger plays with an accomplished grace. The whole affair sounds very much in the English pastoral style despite the ensemble itself not being English.
Delos engineer John Eargle did up the audio in a process the company called VR, Virtual Reality, meaning the listener can play it back in the surround mode with subtle rear-channel effects added. However, in ordinary two-channel stereo it sounds just fine, if a bit thick around the middle. Interestingly, I found the larger orchestra on the aforementioned EMI disc more transparent than this smaller chamber group. But I suppose the added warmth afforded by the VR environment does contribute to the amiable mood of the music.
I wish someone would have told Delos to do something about their clunky art design, though. Their front cover and rear print layout here are unappealing, and for those of us who like to linger over the artwork, they do little to complement the comfortable atmosphere created by the music.