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Peter Racine Fricker: Symphonies Nos. 1-4



‘For me music is as exciting as a sporting event. I wish that … critics and public could get as worked up about new music as they do about football and cricket’. This cri de coeur from composer Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990) captures the passion and conviction with which he approached his craft.

Fricker was born on 5 September 1920 in Ealing, London. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, London and entered the Royal College of Music in 1937. Upon demobilisation he resumed formal composition lessons with the Hungarian émigré composer Mátyás Seiber, who had lived in England since 1935. In 1952 he was appointed musical director of Morley College (succeeding Michael Tippett) and held this post for the next 12 years. During this period he was also a Professor of Composition at the RCM.

Fricker was the first British composer to make his reputation entirely after World War II. Among the first composers in Britain to be influenced by the music of Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, Fricker assimilated aspects of their very different styles into a distinctive voice of his own. He proceeded to build an impressive body of work in his highly expressive, urbane and freely atonal language. Paul Conway

Peter Racine Fricker: Symphonies Nos. 1-4


This two-disc set of Peter Racine Fricker’s first four symphonies blurs the divide between recordings of archival value and simple excellence. All these performances derive from a series of seven broadcasts collected under the title “Fricker in Retrospect” recorded and transmitted by the BBC in 1980 as part of a celebration of Fricker’s 60th birthday. Essentially, these are two very well-filled discs of impressive music performed with considerable skill and conviction. In 1980 this might have been termed Fricker in retrospect, today perhaps Fricker reassessed would be a more apt title.

In this set of broadcasts, the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra are the hard-working and impressive ensemble. Yes, there are a couple of minor blips in ensemble, and the very occasional split note, but the overall standard is very good. More important, the sense of engagement with the actual music is palpable. Each symphony is directed by a different conductor, with Bryden Thomson and Edward Downes stalwarts of the orchestra who went onto wider fame once the BBC allowed their ensembles to be commercially recorded. The BBC engineering of the time is also pleasingly and unfussily good. The stereo spread of the orchestra is wide with a neutral sound-stage.

For this set, Paul Conway’s liner notes are both invaluable and informative. With Fricker, there are very few sources of information of any kind, so Conway is a vital guide. Indeed, as so often with his notes, Conway proves to be one of the most consistently impressive writers working in this field today. This set brings before the listening public two well-filled discs of music by a composer otherwise little heard at all. Hence, for me this is the most significant and valuable release yet in the already cherished mining of the Itter broadcast collection, and one that should be snapped up by all admirers of British symphonic music in the 20th century. Nick Barnard, MisicWeb-International