Peter Racine Fricker: The Vision of Judgement and Symphony No.5

Peter Racine Fricker was among the first composers in Britain to be influenced by the music of Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, assimilating aspects of their very different styles into a distinctive musical voice of his own. Unconcerned by the vagaries of musical fashion, he proceeded to build an impressive body of work in his highly expressive, urbane and freely atonal language. His catalogue, which exceeds 160 pieces in total, encompasses all the main genres with the exception of staged opera. The Vision of Judgement was first performed on 13 October 1958 at Leeds Town Hall as part of the Leeds Centenary Festival. The performance presented here is conducted by Charles Groves, who was familiar with the Fricker style, having taken up the composer’s First Symphony and performed it in one of his last concerts as conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra and then introduced it in Bournemouth and on the Continent. Dedicated ‘to the many fine musicians with whom I have had the pleasure of working so happily in the Royal Festival Hall’, Fricker’s Symphony No.5 was premiered by organist Gillian Weir with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Colin Davis on 5 May 1976 at the RFH in the presence of the composer. It was featured at the Proms on 11th August 1976 with the organist Jennifer Bate and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under John Pritchard. Terse and direct, the score offers some grand gestures in its lively outer sections which are offset by eloquent dialogues between its two principal protagonists in the interludial central segment. Considerable tension is generated in the closing pages, which present an unbuttoned, euphoric display of bravura.
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“On this showing, Peter Racine Fricker’s music is powerful and impressive, and though by no means ‘easy listening’ is also far from having the impression of being difficult or unapproachable to the extent given by many mid-20th century creations. Lyrita’s releases from its founder Richard Itter’s own recorded archive go from strength to strength, and we can but hope that these and other mighty but forgotten works will re-emerge in more frequent modern performances as a result of having their profiles raised via this medium.” Dominy Clements,

Peter Racine Fricker (1920–90) achieved a fine reputation after WW II as one of the finest British composers of his generation; but his star waned, and his music is now largely forgotten. His catalog, though, encompassed more than 160 works in every genre except staged opera; and his music was regularly heard in the 50s and 60s. These are two of his finest large-scale works. In The Vision of Judgement (1957) he set portions of the epic poem Christ by the 8th Century Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf. It is a loud work, relying heavily on brass and percussion, with precious little lyricism to leaven an unrelenting dissonant style. Fricker’s style drew heavily from prevailing European music; it has none of the traditional English folk-derived sound that characterized Vaughan Williams or Holst. The choral style is heavily homophonic, so the powerful text comes over well. In general, though, the music sounds heavy-handed, lacking in variety and finesse. Fricker’s symphony was commissioned by the BBC orchestra in 1975–6 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Royal Festival Hall; it uses a large orchestra, including lots of percussion and a substantial part for organ (though it is not really a concerto). It is a short work, only 19 minutes, concentrated and dense in style. Here the brevity is a plus, for this is a more interesting work than The Vision of Judgement. These recordings were made privately by Richard Itter, the founder of Lyrita. Both are BBC broadcasts, the Vision from 1980, the Symphony from the 1976 premiere (monaural). The quality is quite acceptable, if not at the highest level. Readers interested in post-war British music should grab this while it is available. American Record Guide

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