I’m not generally a fan of recital CDs devoted to a single character or mood, but this album certainly makes a success of the genre. Familiar pieces alternate with interesting rarities, and the programme has several focuses of attention – the varied collection of Frank Bridge pieces, the contrast between Edwardian Morceaux de salon and items connected with Paris in the 1920s the alternation of song arrangements with instrumental pieces in song style, and the culmination in a true song with obbligato violin (Strauss, featuring a radiant-sounding Elizabeth Watts).
Madeleine Mitchell’s playing is most appealing. Her tone is sweet and bright, and she and Andrew Ball are unfailingly sensitive to the nuances and character of each piece. I find the performances of the later music must convincing: the Prokofiev, Boulanger and Copland, for instance, where a measure of coolness and objectivity is an advantage. In the earlier pieces I sometimes found Mitchell rather too reserved and distant – the great violinists of 100 years ago wouldn’t have hesitated to push forward at moments of passion, or to treat each piece as an opportunity to engage personally with their audience. The recorded sound is excellent, but the violin might have benefited from a more intimate presence.
Admirers of Frank Bridge will note his distinctive voice even in the more conventional pieces, and will be especially interested in the Morceau Caracteristique, premiered by May Harrison in about 1908 but only recently rediscovered. It’s a substantial movement, bold and virtuoso, and well worth resurrecting.