Phantasie Piano Quartet
Songs – All Things that We Clasp; Come to Me in my Dreams; Dawn and Evening; Strew no more Red Roses
Scherzo for cello and piano
Three Songs with Viola [Far, far from Each Other; Where is it that our Soul doth Go?; Music, when soft Voices Die]
Souvenir for violin and piano
Songs – My pent-up Tears Oppress My Brain; Night Lies on the Silent Highways; A Dirge; A Dead Violet
Phantasie Piano Trio
London Bridge Ensemble [Daniel Tong (piano), Benjamin Nabarro (violin), Tom Dunn (viola) & Kate Gould (cello)] with Ivan Ludlow (baritone)
Recorded 18-20 February 2007 in The Wathen Hall at St Paul’s School, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2008
CD No: DUTTON EPOCH
Duration: 67 minutes
This very welcome collection embracing a selection of Frank Bridge’s chamber music and songs (neatly laid out with the Phantasie works book-ending songs that are interspersed with instrumental works) begins with the superb Phantasie Piano Quartet (1910), a luxuriant and volatile piece, mixing Brahmsian and French influences, often reflective and beautiful and with an edge and a concision that makes for eventful listening.
It also introduces the superb performers who not only make splendid chamber music but also bring many individual touches to both personalise and illuminate the music. Furthermore, the recording-quality is wholly excellent in balance, immediacy and clarity, and such standards of playing and production hold good for the whole release.
After the heady rapture and vivid communication of the piano quartet, the first group of songs retains the services of Daniel Tong, a very ‘complete’ pianist who has the confidence to play out as required and also the sensitivity to ‘accompany’. His contribution to the songs with piano, eight of them, is notable, a foil for Ivan Ludlow’s well-pitched and well-enunciated taking of the vocal lines in a mix of songs that report Bridge’s fine feeling for words and how best to set them. Ludlow and Tong feed into other with sureness and bring these miniatures (the longest here is four minutes) alive.
From the eleven songs here, three add a viola (Bridge’s main instrument) to the piano, and thus follow Brahms’s deployment of it in his “Two Songs”, Opus 91. Bridge’s three settings are all soulful, the viola playing its role in this, but maybe it and the singer are too closely recorded and tend to dominate the piano; balance for singer and piano, without viola, is more natural and equal. All the songs have appeal, though, not least the tempestuous “A Dirge” (Shelley) that may perhaps be heard as a counterpart to Schubert’s “Erlkönig”.
Coming between the groups of songs are the dashing Scherzo for cello and piano (Saint-Saëns’s Allegro appassionata for cello and orchestra came to mind), which brings a pleasing return for Kate Gould, while Benjamin Nabarro’s silken shaping makes much of the salon-like Souvenir for violin and piano.
A piece such as Souvenir reminds of how wide-ranging and developmental Bridge was during his composing career (a point made in Giles Easterbrook’s excellent booklet note) – and everything seems to have come from his pen with the same affinity. That said, the Phantasie Piano Trio (the longest work here), which closes the programme, doesn’t have quite the depth of perspective that is typical of the very best Bridge creations, yet it is a fulsomely Romantic piece, its soaring lines intensely rendered here, the more introspective moments identified with and the agile passages deftly negotiated – to complete a distinguished issue, one with the song-texts included.