- Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, for strings, Op. 10
- Concerto Funebre for violin & string orchestra
- Divertimento for string orchestra, Sz. 113, BB 118
Three composers -- English, German, and Hungarian -- and three works for string orchestra from the late 1930s, on the verge of World War II: It's hard to avoid looking for traces of political trauma in this music, but it would also be unjust to reduce the works to mirror reflections of their time. While one of the sections of Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is a funeral march, and the central Adagio of Béla Bartók's Divertimento for Strings does have a tragic undertow, it's Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto funè:bre that most openly mourns the impending fate of Europe. Among the works of this still underappreciated composer, the highly expressive Concerto is one that has made inroads into the recorded repertoire in recent years, and Gordan Nicolic -- the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra's conductor and also the violin soloist here -- adds another compelling version to the list with this release. Compared to Hartmann's lament, the other works are positively playful. Britten shows off his youthful cleverness in a series of virtuoso variations on a theme by his own teacher -- rather sadly, it's primarily these variations that have kept Frank Bridge's name before the public, though his own musical talents were considerable. As for Bartók, his Divertimento revels in the characteristic folk music traditions of eastern Europe, especially in the boisterous finale. Though the recorded sound is on the austere side, the performances of all three works are intensely driven and charged with feeling; anyone intrigued by this combination of works should not hesitate, for the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra serves them and their composers well.