GMCD 7381 – The Moving Finger Writes by Peter Fribbins

Chilingirian Quartet, Anthony Hewitt (piano), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola), Diana Brekalo (piano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (leader: Duncan Riddell), Robertas Servenikas (conductor)

To the CD in our Shop – May 2013

This disc presents a nice variety of small- and large-scale works by the British composer Peter Fribbins: a string quartet (performed admirably by the Chilingirian Quartet), a Haydn homage for solo piano, a piano concerto, and a set of two fantasias for viola and piano. Fribbins is a modernist, but one unafraid of expressive immediacy, and the piano concerto in particular owes much to the Romantics. But my favorite piece is the pair of fantasias, one of them based on a Welsh folk tune and the other on a song from Hungary: their stark and astringent melodies and understated intensity are particularly attractive. The performances are all excellent.
Rick Anderson

Gramophone Awards – October 2012

Premiere performances of a modern melodic master.
Born in 1969, Peter Fribbins is a composer very mach in the tradition of Brittenand Tippett, unafraid to write melodically and tonally in thoughtful, well-wrought works. This Guild disc brings together four of his works recorded from different sources in excellent Sound.
Most important is the Piano Concerto, written for the Croatian soloist, Diana Brekalo. It was recorded live at its first performance in 2011 at Cadogan Hall in London, an account with next to no interruptions from the audience until the applause at the end. The opening ‘Adagio’, made ominous with loud timpani strokes, leads to an ‘Allegro’ in which a viola melody is constantly varied. It matters little that one hardly registers that motif, for the tautness of structure is perfectly evident. The slow movement is more straightforwardly melodic, with an oboe melody taken up by the piano. In the finale, alter a rushing first theme, the oboe introduces a second subject, leading to a movement with plentiful timpani strokes and a slow central section before a final fugato and an exciting coda. Splendid performances from Brekalo and the RPO under the Croatian conductor Robertas Servenikas.
The title, ‘After Cromer’, of the Second String Quartet does not refer to the place but to the hymn tune, which forms the basis of the powerful first movement: the Chilingirian Quartet, for whom it was written, are the persuasive advocates. After a brilliant ‘scherzo’, the slow movement is a reworking of one of Fribbins’s organ pieces with a ‘pizzicato’ central section. The finale also brings some ‘pizzicato’ writing with double-stopping reminiscent of Bartok, leading to an energetic conclusion.
A ‘Haydn Prelud’e was written as a tribute to John McCabe on his 70th birthday, reflecting his monumental recording of the complete Haydn piano sonatas. The Two Fantasias for viola and piano feature deep meditations for the viola, the first based on a Welsh folk tune, the second on a Hungarian melody, with die piano weaving an often elaborate accompaniment. Superb performances from the dedicated Sarah Jane Bradley and Anthony Hewitt, who also plays the solo piano piece. Altogether an illuminating portrait of a composer who deserves to be even bester known.
Edward Greenfield

MusicWeb International – October 2012

Fribbins has much to say musically speaking … very well served by the thoughtful and imaginative musicians.
The music of Peter Fribbins can be heard over a wide range of forms in this disc, from a solo piano prelude to a full-scale piano concerto. To add a string quartet and fantasias for viola and piano ensures that he is represented by a portfolio of compositions that showcases his highly communicative but never wholly straightforward music.
The String Quartet builds on the old hymn Cromer, an organ prelude on which Fribbins had written some time before this 2006 quartet. It’s a rather fascinating work, profuse with incident, cannily establishing the hymn tune over supporting pizzicati. There is warm writing in the slow movement, each voice richly characterised, followed immediately by a taut, lively scherzo. Energetically launched, as the finale develops we hear the emergence of another venerable hymn, For those in Peril On the Sea.
A Haydn Prelude was written jointly for John McCabe’s 70th birthday and for the commemoration of Haydn’s bicentenary – the felicitous joining of pianist and composer won’t be lost on those who collected McCabe’s monumental and pioneering complete Haydn sonata recordings. It’s a thoughtful, reflective piece but hints suggestively too, albeit briefly.
The Piano Concerto was written in 2010. This performance at the Cadogan Hall in London was its world premiere. This work, in contrast to the brief Prelude, is cast on a wide canvass lasting half an hour. Once again construction and development are keys to the success of the work. It opens rather sullenly but soon erupts with purpose and power, full of contrast and colour. The solo piano’s ruminative paragraphs, some archaic-inclining, conjure up evocative sound pictures in the mind, and are finely played by Diana Brekalo. The oboe melody in the slow movement doesn’t sound remotely like the oboe solo in the slow movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto but it serves a similar expressive point and adds to the cumulative sense of resolution and repose found by the piano. Lyrical and warm, the finale is pushed on by powerful brass writing, revisits earlier material, and reaches a rather abrupt, decisive end.
The Fantasias take two folk tunes, one Welsh and one Hungarian, and make great play with them. I detect the influence of Britten’s Lachrymae in the first and I can hear cimbalon imitation in the second.
Fribbins has much to say musically speaking, and he has been very well served by the thoughtful and imaginative soloists here, and by the recordings in various venues.
Jonathan Woolf

International Record Review – September 2012

This release follows an earlier Guild disc (reviewed in June 2010) devoted to the music of Peter Fribbins and reinforces his standing as a composer whose advocacy of outwardly traditional genres is complemented by an approach to tonal thinking that is distinctive and often personal in its elaboration of longer-term formal and expressive contrasts.
The Second String Quartet (2006) is a notable case in point. Taking its cue from an earlier organ prelude based upon the Victorian hymn Cromer, each of the four movements embodies aspects of that melody, though its deployment is hardly predictable as the tensile and combative opening movement segues seamlessly into a brief yet finely sustained Andante of affecting poise. After this, the Scherzo makes further inventive play with the hymn tune (along with what sounds disconcertingly similar to the chorus refrain from the folk song The Quartermaster’s Stores), then the energetic finale introduces elements of another English hymn as the work heads toward a teasingly equivocal conclusion.
The work receives a committed performance from the Chilingirian Quartet (which commissioned it), while Anthony Hewitt is no less attuned to the delicate interplay of echoes and allusions in A Haydn Prelude (2009), written as a 70th birthday tribute to John McCabe. Sarah-Jane Bradley joins Hewitt for Fantasias: the first (2007) was written for the Presteigne Festival and a rapt meditation on the Welsh folk song When I was a Shepherd, while the second (2010) was written for violist Eniko Magyar and draws upon the Hungarian folk song 1 thought it was raining in music that complements its predecessor in intensely inward emotion — making for some of the most appealing music that Fribbins has yet composed.
By contrast, the Piano Concerto is large-scale orchestral writing with a vengeance – the three movements (the latter two playing without pause) evincing a confident handling of formal momentum which amply sustains the 30-minute whole. With its slow though far from inert introduction that comes gradually and atmospherically into focus, the first movement is a substantial Allegro whose principal themes, while not overly distinctive in themselves, allow for the requisite contrast and development — for all that the heightened reappearance of introductory material seems not wholly reconciled within its new context. The slow movement is framed by introspective sections with the soloist to the fore, between which the latter enters into a limpid folk-tinged dialogue with the woodwind in what is surely the work’s most memorable passage. After which, the finale once more juxtaposes ideas of relative dynamism and stasis — drawing in references to the theme from the work’s introduction on the way to an incisive fugal elaboration of the main material, prior to the quizzical return of the opening theme then a brusque surge to the dose. Diana Brekalo is at ease with a solo part that throws up many technical challenges, with the Royal Philharmonic responding ably to Robertas Servenikas in a performance that, if not without occasional lapses of ensemble, is sympathetic to the piece’s essentially Classical cohesion.
The Sound in the Concerto draws an unexpected degree of warmth and perspective from the often unyielding acoustic of the Cadogan Hall, while that in the other works has Guild’s familiar clarity and definition. Enthusiastic notes by Christopher Dromey complement a disc which those familiar with as well as those new to Fribbins’s music should certainly investigate.
Richard Whitehouse

Culture Capital – July 2012

This second album on the Swiss label Guild, featuring the work of English composer Peter Fribbins, marks a development in his compositional style from the first, I have the Serpent Brought (2010- on the same label).
Fribbins is a difficult composer to categorise. Just when the gestures get more expansive and we think we understand his direction, Fribbins is capable of delicately blindsiding us with A Haydn Prelude a short, static, bittersweet little piece.
Contemporary British composers either tend towards unforgiving modernism, or to the opposite end of the spectrum, with tonality reigning supreme. Fribbins occupies neither of these camps, unashamedly showing his influences from composers from Haydn to Tippett, but also the darker hues of Penderecki and Schnittke.
Fribbins’ music is extremely concentrated. On this second CD, he never lets a theme or an idea go without recycling or re-imagining it. The album covers six years of compositional activity, but little ideas are passed around between the pieces: they are all strongly interconnected, even to some pieces on his previous CD.
The Second String Quartet is based on an old English hymn tune (Cromer) and stems from an earlier organ piece by Fribbins. The quartet juxtaposes harsh chromatic intervals with soaring consonances. The frequent use of suspensions and cadences is particularly effective.
The most attention-grabbing piece of the CD is the Piano Concerto, performed by fiery German-Croatian pianist Diana Brekalo and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Lithuanian conductor Robertas Servenikas.
Fribbins writes for relatively small forces, about the size of a mid-to-late 18th century orchestra (a tactical move, according to the composer, who hopes to encourage more frequent and inexpensive performances) but the way he uses these is, at times, positively Mahlerian. The concerto opens with an almost Purcell-like theme followed by a fugal answer. This theme forms the basis of the whole work, but Fribbins seldom varies it harmonically. Instead he is sufficiently adept in playing with the orchestral textures and colour that he completely avoids all danger of stasis or repetition.
A hallmark of this album (along with many other of his pieces not released here) is that Fribbins writes poignant second movements. After the stormy and tempestuous 1st movement of the Piano Concerto, the second is delicate, aching. There are subtle continuations and reference points, material set into different contexts: the harsh and abrasive timpani stabs heard in the 1st movement are transformed and given to the woodwinds in a quiet dynamic in the 2nd for example. The second movement of the String Quartet also subtly adapts the themes from the first movement. This time, however, Fribbins uses drones in the low parts with sophisticated counterpoint in the high parts, strongly reminiscent of an ecclesiastical choir or organ.
This whole album shows a further maturation of the composer’s style. It doesn’t just deserve, it positively demands repeated listening.
Review by Robert Edgar